The Wisconsin mens soccer team opens the 31st season in program history by playing host to the Middleton Sports and Fitness Invitational Friday and Sunday at McClimon Soccer Complex. The Badgers welcome Tulsa, Western Michigan and UW-Milwaukee to Madison for the 19th annual invitational, which UW has won nine times.
The Badgers open the 2007 season against Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. Friday immediately following a match between UW-Milwaukee and Western Michigan. The action concludes Sunday as UW-Milwaukee takes on Tulsa at noon and the Badgers face Western Michigan at 2:30 p.m.
Now in his sixth season with the program, Wisconsin head coach Jeff Rohrman and his crew will look to build upon their success from last season. The team was just 90 minutes away from a Big Ten regular season title in 2006.
Leading the Badgers will be a five-member senior class that includes four players who have played in at least 48 games in their careers. In all, Wisconsin returns six starters from last seasons squad that finished the year with an overall record of 9-8-2, including its entire corps of midfielders.
Were a team with a lot of skill and a lot of attacking options, Rohrman said. I think one of the things that helped us last year was that we didnt give up anything in our own end and that has to be the same this year.
The biggest challenge facing the Badgers will be replacing the defensive trio of goalkeeper Jake Settle and central defenders Hamid Afsari and All-American Aaron Hohlbein. However, what UW loses in experience will be replaced by an equal amount of technical skill.
The highlight of the 2006 season was a six-match unbeaten streak that included victories over No. 7 Illinois-Chicago and Big Ten foes Michigan and Northwestern. The unbeaten streak, Wisconsins longest in 12 years, propelled the Badgers back into the national rankings for the first time since September of 2002.
We had a taste of what we were looking for last year and I think in hindsight, when the sting wore off from the end of the season, the guys felt we accomplished some of our goals and took some great steps forward, Rohrman said. There is still that hunger and determination to make that next stage and I think this group realizes just what theyre capable of doing.
The Badgers return the bulk of their offensive punch from last season, including seven of their top eight scorers and 84 percent of their goal production. Leading the way will be junior Victor Diaz, who has led the team in points in each of his two previous seasons at Wisconsin.
Joining Diaz in the front line will be a trio of talented sophomores in Eric Conklin, Brian Bultman and Brandon Miller. As freshmen, the three players accounted for seven goals and 17 points.
Certainly Victor Diaz is capable of notching points for us like he has in the past, Rohrman said. Weve also got guys like Brian Bultman, Eric Conklin and Brandon Miller, guys weve barely scratched the surface with. All of those guys had some great moments for us in the spring and theyll only continue to improve.
The strength of the 2007 Badgers will certainly be its skill and depth at midfield, where the team returns all of its starters and key reserves. Three of Wisconsins five seniors will likely feature in the midfield, giving the team a strong core of experience.
When you look at what we bring back from last year, we didnt lose a single midfielder, Rohrman said. We should have one of the strongest midfields, certainly in our region, if not the country. We are deep and talented there and will be a team that is capable of scoring a lot of goals because we have a lot of depth and a lot of weapons.
Leading the way will be seniors Erik Ortega and Dirk Pearson. Joining them will be junior Kenny Dix and sophomore Pablo Delgado, who both possess the ability to add an attacking flair to the midfield.
Delgado, a member of the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season along with Conklin, can strike from anywhere in the final third and can also deliver the ball into the box with great touch.
Between our forwards and attacking midfielders, we have a lot of offensive options, said Rohrman. We will be a team that can score in a number of different ways from a number of different people.
Anchoring the midfield will be sophomores Jon Rzepka and Taylor Waspi. Rzepka appeared in 16 games last season and was named the teams Most Outstanding Freshman while Waspi missed much of the season due to injury.
The task of replacing Afsari and Hohlbein at the center back positions will likely fall to senior Nick Caronna, junior Zack Lambo and sophomore Taylor Waspi. All three are comfortable at the position and will be able to provide a solid defensive foundation for the team.
We certainly have a good core that should be able to jump in and do an extremely good job for us, Rohrman said. All three of them have experience at center back, not only with us but also with club teams and we played them there quite a bit this spring.
On the wings, B.J. Goodman and Scott Lorenz have both been converted to backs and will likely feature in the starting lineup. Meanwhile, freshmen Tyler Ballay and Cale Cooper will also likely see minutes in the back line.
We converted B.J. Goodman this spring from a midfielder to someone who can fill a right back role, Rohrman said. Hell be a guy who can not only play the defensive role, but also get forward and provide some great things in the attacking half. Scott Lorenz played a little bit at left back during the fall, but he has really staked his claim to that spot going into the fall.
In the Net
Wisconsins roster features three underclassmen in net, including redshirt freshman Ryan Vint and sophomore transfers Alex Horwath (UConn) and Sean Sigrist (Old Dominion). Vint and Horwath will combine to replace two-year starter Jake Settle.
The staff and the players are all extremely comfortable with either Ryan Vint or Alex Horwath, Rohrman said. With those two young men, weve got two guys who will certainly do an outstanding job and pick up right where Jake Settle left off. Were excited because weve got two first-class goalkeepers who will give us a lot of depth at the position.
The Badgers will face their first test of the 2007 season at the Middleton Sports and Fitness Invitational Friday and Sunday at McClimon Soccer Complex.