Penn State Men’s Soccer Favored In Playoff Opener Against Wisconsin
Penn State men’s soccer enters the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 2 seed, and will play Wisconsin Sunday, November 10 at 1 p.m. on Jeffrey Field. The Nittany Lions, ranked No. 13 in the United Coaches Poll, enter the match as heavy favorites against the Badgers.
But head coach Jeff Cook isn’t taking Penn State’s first-round opponents lightly.
“Wisconsin has some good players. It’s not like we will be able to show up and take the ball, they are a pretty good team,” Cook said.
Wisconsin (3-10-4, 1-4-3 Big Ten) represent a quintessential lower-tier team in a competitive Big Ten conference. Despite only earning six points from league play, the Badgers have always been competitive. Of the program’s 10 losses this season, only a 3-0 defeat to Rutgers saw John Trask’s men lose by more than two goals. The Badgers have lost by a single goal in six matches, including last month’s 2-1 defeat to Penn State.
Penn State concluded its regular season campaign on Sunday before taking two days off to begin its first week in the postseason. While the Nittany Lions returned to the practice fields on Wednesday, Wisconsin was firmly in their minds.
“We have gone back through a number of our recent games on video,” Cook said.
Cook will have a tactical plan ready for the Badgers. However, understanding Penn State’s opponent won’t be the most important piece of preparation for this week’s match.
“Of course, we are looking at Wisconsin specifically, but one thing we have talked about all year is how can we improve every week,” Cook said.
Penn State capped off the regular season with a seven-match unbeaten run, but looked in danger of losing points to less talented opposition squads. No matter what Wisconsin’s record, Cook knows that his team will need a complete game on both sides of the ball in order to advance to the semifinals.
“I thought we had some really good possession play against Rutgers, but probably not as many chances to score,” Cook said. “I thought that our defensive work was really good, but our pressing game wasn’t, so that is something we need to refine in practice.”
Cook will look to lean on athletic forwards Liam Butts and Christian Sload, along with substitutes Andrew Privett and Josh Dabora to wreak havoc on the Wisconsin defense, putting the Badgers under pressure when they have the ball in their defensive third.
“Trying to create turnovers and pressing has been a hallmark for what we’ve done all year,” Cook said.
If the Badgers are to pull off a shock upset at Jeffrey Field, they will need to lean on their defense. In 17 matches, Wisconsin has found the net a dismal 11 times. No player has scored more than twice all season. In comparison, Aaron Molloy and Butts have scored eight, while Sload has tacked on four goals for Penn State.
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