On Wednesday night at Valley Fields, the No. 10 Marquette Golden Eagles will host the Wisconsin Badgers in what has become their second biggest rivalry game of the season.
The Badgers are in their third season under head coach John Trask and finished 10-8-2 in 2011. Like Marquette, Wisconsin barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament last fall. The Badgers won only four games in Trask’s first season in 2010, and although their start to this season has been slower than they would have hoped for, the program is still progressing in the right direction.
“They reflect more of the Big Ten,” Marquette head coach Louis Bennett said. “They’re stronger, and they have the ability to lock the defense up. Coach Trask is established as a very good coach in college soccer. As a player, he played in the Big Ten, so he’s aware of the style and standard of what it takes to win in that league.”
This season, Trask’s team has had a slow start and sits at 2-3-3 coming into its match against Marquette. The core of the team is returning, only losing last season’s second leading point-scorer in Joey Thiermann.
One key to the Badgers’ slide, however, is the absence of midfielder Tomislav Zadro. The senior was a first team All-Big Ten player last season but has yet to play this season due to injury.
Still, there is no lack of talent on this Badgers team. They have three players in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s 2012 Men’s Upperclassmen Top 100, with sophomore defender AJ Cochran listed as the country’s 28th ranked college player, Zadro at 58th, and sophomore David Caban coming in at 84th.
In last season’s game between the two sides in Madison, Eric Pothast gave Marquette a first half lead before Cochran leveled matters for the Badgers in the second.
Sophomore forward Kelmend Islami recalls the Badgers’ size and physical play on defense and hopes the Golden Eagles stick to what they do best in keeping their attack close to the ground.
“I remember their backline was all big,” Islami said. “They tried to body us up and were good in the air. We have to avoid playing it over them.”
Marquette assistant coach Steve Bode played at UW-Milwaukee under Bennett, so he has seen many rivalries in the state. While the annual Milwaukee Cup match between Marquette and Milwaukee is the most heralded, Bode believes this game is gaining importance and intensity.
“It’s helping grow the college game in the state,” Bode said. “We talk about the Milwaukee Cup every year in Milwaukee, but with Madison, it is growing and is getting better and better every year in terms of the rivalry and the product on the field every year.”
“It’s a huge game because it’s an in-state rival, so it will kind of be like the UWM atmosphere,” Islami said. “It will be hard to slow the game down, but if we can do that I think we can do some good things.”
As the rivalry grows, the game becomes more and more intense and unpredictable. In a game between two teams that are going in separate directions at the moment, Bennett says nothing leading up to this game for either side matters.
“Records go out the window,” Bennett said. “There are a couple of games on our schedule where it doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It’s about what you do in the moment.”