As the leaves begin to turn around Lake Mendota and the Big Ten announces the return of football, fall begins to feel as if it is slowly slipping over Madison.
For many, this brings excitement — a sense of normalcy that has been desperately missing these last few weeks and the year as a whole. Sadly for some, the coming of fall brings some uncertainty, in particular for Badger soccer fans.
The University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team has seemed to be in a state of limbo since the high of a Big Ten Championship in fall of 2017. The Badgers were taken out in the semifinals in 2018 with big hopes for 2019. Sadly, these hopes of glory solidified last year into a reality of a harsh, challenge-filled season full of injury, adversity and loss.
After 2019, some fans believed it was time for the page to be turned on longtime Head Coach John Trask.
This, of course, comes with any team that seems to perform under their potential, and for many fans, they see Wisconsin soccer as loaded with potential. This expectation is not misrouted. Wisconsin is a team that was not only a runner-up to the Big Ten crown — but won it, as previously stated.
The Badger soccer community has been privy to some amazing talent over the years. Foremost amongst them is Chris Mueller, MLS’s runner-up for 2018 Rookie of the Year and a Badger standout from 2017.
Mueller is a gifted scorer who totaled 22 goals and 35 assists across four seasons with the Badgers. Of course, after this kind of play, it has been hard for fans to grapple with multiple seasons highlighted by poor play and injuries, not to mention the complications of COVID-19 this year.
For some, the season can be too much and it can result in a program cleaning house, but this is not the case in Madison. I spoke with Badger team captains Michael Russell II and Zach Klancnik about last season and the one to come, and the message was clear and unanimous: While last year was full of injuries and featured a team that struggled to play to their potential, this year’s squad is shaping up to be a whole lot more.
“The end of the season…[with COVID] made us know that nothing is granted and it really brought us together,” Russell said.
This sentiment was echoed in the words of Coach Trask’s late-season press conference last October. Coming off of close games against Penn State and Ohio State near the end of the season, the team seemed rejuvenated and cohesive like never before.
“Practice is going well. We are really coming together as a team,” Klancnik said.
This season’s team looks not only bigger than last year’s team, they are also shaping up to be one of the most cohesive units we have seen. With the world being in shock and the future of the season hanging in the balance, this year’s batch of men’s soccer players are ready to compete.
They look to push past the adversity of not only last year, but of COVID-19 as a hamper on this season. With a more motivated and more connected team, the Badgers seem ready to overcome last year’s adversity and shake up the Big Ten in another great year for UW men’s soccer.