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Spring Preview: Defensive by design (with video)


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With the Wisconsin men's soccer team in the midst of its spring training schedule, UWBadgers.com caught up with first-year head coach Todd Yeagley to get his thoughts on the state of his new team. This is the fourth and final story in a series previewing the Badgers' spring season, which includes home games at Camp Randall Stadium on April 10 and April 15.
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Video: Yeagley Discusses Spring Training


The phrase practically defines cliche, but it is hard to argue with the old adage that defense wins championships.

Thats why defense is the focal point of the system first-year head coach staffid=1074"> --> Todd Yeagley is in the process of installing with the Wisconsin mens soccer team.

While April is awfully early to be throwing around words like championship in a sport that crowns its titlists in December, Yeagley and his staff are working hard to impress that defense will provide the path to success.

If nothing else, solidifying the defense in practice this spring -- both in terms of strategy and execution -- will help the Badgers win games this fall.

Spring Preview Series

  • sportid=122&storyid=17534"> --> Planting the Seeds for Success (April 1)
  • sportid=122&storyid=17558"> --> Who, What, Where (April 3)
  • sportid=122&storyid=17589"> --> No Lack of Leaders (April 6)
  • sportid=122&storyid=17613"> --> Defensive by Design (April 8)

What weve tried to stress is that defending starts from the top down, Yeagley said. We want to get our team defense to be as efficient and effective as possible, but individual defending has been a focus, too.

The importance of team defense is easy to see.

Of the four clubs in last years NCAA College Cup, three were ranked in the top 20 nationally in team goals-against average. Only North Carolina, ranked 94th among NCAA teams, managed to advance to the final four after allowing opponents an average of more than 0.70 goals per game.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, finished the season ranked fifth in the Big Ten Conference with a 1.01 goals-against average. Each of the four Big Ten teams that ranked ahead of UW in terms of opponents scoring average found a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Not that the Badgers number was anything to sneeze at, as UW ranked 58th among NCAA teams in goals-against average. However, with 14 of its 19 games decided by one goal or fewer, a couple more defensive stops during the course of a season could have meant a lot to the teams postseason hopes.

In fact, nine of the 10 games UW lost or tied last season were decided by margins of one goal or less.

Thats why Yeagley and his staff have invested so much this spring in working with players individually on the keys to strong defense. The Badgers return half of their starting defense from last season in junior-to-be Aaron Nichols and senior-to-be Eric Conklin, while rising senior Alex Horwath also is back for his third season in goal.

Regardless of who spent time on the back line last season, however, Yeagley and his staff have made defense a priority at all positions.

Weve spent a lot of time working individually and in small groups working on principles and knowing the accountability that each player has to have, Yeagley said. Everyone has a role in the team defensively.

When he says everyone, Yeagley means it. As much as the Badgers will count on offensive production from the players at the top of their formation, those forwards also will serve as the teams first line of defense.

When you do that, were able to win more balls in areas of the field where we want to win them back, like in the attacking third, Yeagley said. That lets us keep pressing the other team and have more success offensively.

In other words, shoring up their team defense will also make the Badgers more potent offensively. The numbers from 2008 seem to back up that assertion.

Of the four strong defensive teams that advanced to the College Cup, three were ranked near the top 20 nationally in offensive production, as well.

Wake Forest, which had the nations No. 18-ranked defense, also led the NCAA by scoring an average of 3.38 goals per game. Also, national champion Maryland translated its 17th-ranked defense into the nations No. 21 scoring offense. Combine the two and, for the season, the Terrapins outscored their opponents by an average of 1.24 goals per game.

UW, meanwhile, outscored its opponents by an average of just 0.41 goals per contest in 2008, a number skewed a bit by a pair of wins in which the Badgers defeated Penn State and UW-Milwaukee by a combined 8-1 margin.

By becoming better on the defensive end of that equation, Yeagley firmly believes the Badgers will see improvement on the offensive side, as well. That, in turn, should help the Badgers turn more of those close scores in their favor this fall.

The more effectively we defend, the more the level of our offensive production will increase, as well, he said. Whatever we do, we challenge ourselves to defend.

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