Dec. 12, 2012
MADISON, Wis. – Thanks to strong seasons from several players, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team closed the 2012 season on a positive note and built momentum going into what looks to be a very promising 2013 season.
After a 3-6-3 start, the Badgers steadily improved, laying the foundation for an exciting future. UW closed the season at 6-8-5 on the strength of a 3-2-2 finish in their last seven games, which included a thrilling 2-1 victory over Michigan at home on Oct. 13, as well as a scoreless draw with defending Big Ten Champion Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. on Oct. 28.
“While I'm not pleased with our overall record or the Big Ten portion of our season, there were many bright spots for the team,” said head coach John Trask, before mentioning Adam Lauko, Drew Conner and AJ Cochran as players who particularly impressed him this season.
Wisconsin’s late-season surge was bolstered by a renewed home-field advantage at the McClimon Soccer Complex, where UW finished the season 4-3-2—their first season with a winning home record since 2009.
Much of UW’s consistent improvement over the course of the season can be traced back to the rapid development of the defense.
The Wisconsin defense was led by captains Kyle MCrudden and Paul Yonga, as well as first-team All-Big Ten honoree AJ Cochran. Joining McCrudden, Yonga and Cochran in the back for the Badgers were a pair of freshmen, keeper Chase Rau and outside back Andrew Lauko.
Despite struggles early in the season, a formation change and breakout performances from Rau and Lauko made the UW defense a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten season. After experimenting with a three-back alignment early in the season, the Badgers permanently switched to a four-back system after a 3-1 loss to FIU on Sept. 7.
By all accounts, the move worked. After allowing three goals in three of their first four games, the Badgers held opponents to two goals or less in each of the final 15 games of the season. Wisconsin also put together a pair of extended shutout streaks, keeping opponents off the scoreboard for 301 minutes from Sept. 9-21 before topping that with a 363-minute shutout streak that spanned from Oct. 21-Nov. 7.
Much of the credit for UW’s defensive renaissance goes to Rau and Lauko, who emerged as future stars for the Badgers as the season wore on. Lauko broke into Wisconsin’s starting lineup midway through the season and stayed there, starting 10 games and earning a spot on the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.
Rau also made a name for himself with a fantastic season. The freshman finished fourth in the Big Ten in in save percentage (.759), third in saves (60) and fourth in shutouts (four). He also became the first Badger in program history to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week three times in a single season.
Wisconsin coupled its stingy defense with an incredibly balanced offensive attack. A total of 17 different Badgers tallied at least one point, the most for UW since 2000, and a sharp increase from the 11 players who recorded points last season. The Badgers also got goals from 12 different players, their most goal-scorers since the 2007 season.
For the second time in three seasons, Chris Prince led the Badgers in scoring with 11 points (three goals, five assists). He got help from Drew Conner, who paced the Wisconsin midfield with two goals and an assist and was rewarded with a spot on the Big Ten all-freshman team.
With a young roster that blossomed as the year went on, the future looks promising for the Badgers.
Jerry Maddi and Kyle McCrudden are the only two losses for a UW team that will return 27 of its 29 players next season. Wisconsin will also be bolstered by the return of Tomislav Zadro. Zadro led the Badgers in scoring during the 2011 season, but was sidelined this year by a knee injury.
“We’re already preparing for the 2013 season,” Trask said. “With continued development and some exciting new recruits, the future looks bright.”
With 11 seniors, two returning captains and an offensive spark from Zadro, the Badgers look poised to carry their momentum from the end of this season into next year and beyond.