UW men’s soccer team going with youth to replace star players

first_imgIn the wake of losing 14 seniors, the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team is raising its expectations of its underclassmen.Last season, AJ Cochran earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, while Tomislav Zadro was awarded Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. However, both Cochran and Zadro have departed. In addition to those players, 12 other seniors graduated last year and left holes to be filled by much younger, and less experienced, players in 2014.Wisconsin head coach John Trask responded by playing eight of the team’s 13 freshmen in UW’s first four games, which he understands can be a difficult way for the players to begin the season.“It’s going to take a while to replace those guys,” Trask said. “We are asking a lot out of freshmen, but having said that, we have an extremely talented freshmen class who is not only healthy defensively, but they are putting numbers on the board as well.”Wisconsin’s freshmen have scored all but one of UW’s goals so far this season, led by Mark Segbers with a team-high three goals. The early experience should bode well for the future of Wisconsin soccer as the team heads into Big Ten play. As the season continues, the Badgers and Trask hope the young players can come together and compete at a high level.Trask said he believes the team is in a good place right now with the improvements he has seen since the beginning of camp, especially from his younger players. He knows that putting the younger players in early games will prepare them for future games and get them up to college speed and skill levels.Improvement on both sides of the ball has come from paying attention to details during practice. If the Badgers cannot control the minor details during practice, they will certainly not compete at the highest levels during games.Wisconsin has been trying to transfer that attention to detail from practice into their games, which has not shown strong results yet. Despite this, the team is coming together and improving at every opportunity on both the offensive and defensive ends.As for changes to the team because of the loss of so many seniors, the Badgers’ offensive strategy has changed because of the loss of Zadro and other offensive players.“Offensively, on free kicks and corner kicks, we have to rely on timing and getting numbers in the box because the crosses aren’t going to be as perfect every time, like when Tomislav was crossing it,” redshirt junior Carl Schneider said.That’s not the only change that has to be made. With Cochran not on the defensive end, the defenders have had to work harder this season to make sure opponents have fewer opportunities for headers and scoring chances.“AJ [Cochran] was a dominant force in the air,” Trask said. “We never had to worry about a head ball dropped in our end of the field when AJ was on the team. So that’s just going to be something that’s ongoing to get better at that by committee rather than one player.”On goal kicks, Cochran was counted on to win headers consistently and to distribute the ball to his teammates. Now that he is gone, the Badgers lack a player that can always go up and win headers, so they have placed more players around the ball in order to fight to take possession of the next ball.All aspects of the game have come down to the numbers of Badgers around the ball. If they have more players surrounding the ball, they will have a better chance of stopping teams from converting on those scoring chances.The last place where Cochran and Zadro will be missed, is their ability to lead by example through their experience, which made it easy for the team to remain levelheaded.“AJ [Cochran] and Tomislav [Zadro] were both just really experienced,” sophomore Brian Hail said. “They played in big games before, and no matter if we went down or it was a very crucial game, they were always levelheaded. They never got too high or too low emotionally.”Trask looks to use his time with new players early on in the season to see which ones step up into leadership positions and which ones steps up as consistent, go-to players.“Younger players, such as myself, need to step up as leaders on and off the field,” Hail said. “I think it’s very important to set a culture and mature in our ways and lead the younger guys into a good season, and hopefully seasons to come.”last_img