For the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team, the first five games of the season have been anything but easy.Following a season that saw the Badgers earn their best record (10-8-2) under head coach John Trask, which culminated in a semifinal finish in the Big Ten tournament, UW has struggled to replicate the same results this year, sitting at a 1-2-2 record so far this fall.To make matters worse, the defense, which was the most dependable part of the team last year – it earned seven shutouts on its way to helping the Badgers win six games that were decided by a single goal – has already allowed 11 goals in its first five games.UW has been plagued by a number of slow starts to games this season as well. In its first five games this season, UW has been the first to concede a goal in three of them.For head coach John Trask, the diagnosis is simple.“The back(line) is not being sharp enough,” Trask said. “I think, over the last couple of weeks we have just been chipping away at the things we need to do better, whether it’s [marking in the penalty area], or start-up positions, or making sure that we are all connected on the field. … It’s just unfortunate that it’s taking this much time.”In an attempt to create more goal-scoring opportunities this season, Trask and the rest of the coaching staff tried out a new formation to start the season that pushed more players farther up the field into the attack. It forced UW to depend on only three defenders – most soccer teams use four – at the back to provide a final line of defense.“We’ve been a team, over the past couple years where we really played defensively, so we were hoping this was the year that we would be able to extend the field some,” Trask said. “… In a couple of early preseason games we saw that we played better attacking-wise when we had three at the back.“Obviously [the formation] was not effective, and we switched back, and we got these guys back in their comfort zone. That way, we hoped we could start defending properly.”In UW’s first game since switching back to a defensive line with four at the back, the Badgers earned a hard fought 1-1 draw against 13th-ranked Georgetown after the game went to double overtime and only allowed one goal in the second half on a penalty kick given in the 67th minute.The Badger backline returns almost all of its key players from a year ago, including junior captain Paul Yonga and sophomore AJ Cochran, who have both started since their respective freshman years.But despite a defense full of experience, a few key injuries coming into the season have affected the personnel Trask has had to choose from at the back – none more than recovering senior defender Kyle McCrudden – and mistakes were bound to happen with different combinations of players in the defense, especially early in the season.With McCrudden’s return to the starting lineup against Georgetown Sunday, the Badgers return one of their three captains and another leader to help solidify the defense.“[Kyle] has had a couple of surgeries in the offseason, trying to get his groin right, but that is behind him,” Trask said. “Having said that, because of the timing of the surgery, it was difficult for him to put in enough work to get ready for preseason.“He’s a senior captain, he has got experience, and I thought, though he couldn’t hold up in double overtime, that he gave us some great minutes Sunday, and hopefully he can give us more this coming weekend.”While it is easy to single out the defense for the team’s early mishaps this season, the players are quick to point out soccer is a team sport and the team’s poor defensive play rests on the shoulders of every UW player on the field.“We all defend together,” junior midfielder Drew Connor said. “We aren’t just talking about our backline, but instead we are talking defensively about the whole group. … We work as a team to move [the ball] up the field.”Fortunately for the Badgers, the return to four at the back in the game against Georgetown seems to have been a turning point for a team that was lacking confidence, and it is a game the whole team will look to build on as it moves forward in the season.“We went the first 45 minutes of that game without a goal for the first time all season and we are looking to get our first shutout of the season this weekend hopefully, McCrudden said. “But we need to continue to make it tough to play through us and to score goals against us.”
"Wisconsin defense aims return to 2011 form"