Big Ten foes Wisconsin, Michigan State face off
GREGORY DIXON/Herald photoIt took eight games of defensive prowess by the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team before the offense finally erupted with a four-goal shutout win against Northern Illinois University Wednesday night. The Badgers assaulted the Huskies defense with three of four goals scored in the first half complemented by three assists to improve their record to 5-2-2 for the season. The convincing victory over the Huskies was the first time since Sept. 3 of last year that the Badgers posted at least four goals in a game.The offensive explosion was a welcome one for the Badgers, who scored more than one goal for only the second time this season. Sophomore forward Brandon Miller put on an offensive clinic by notching three assists and a goal. Senior midfielder Dirk Pearson, who came off the bench to replace an injured Pablo Delgado, led the team with two goals. Nobody was more excited about the improvement on offense than head coach Jeff Rohrman.”It’s about time,” Rohrman said. “I couldn’t be more happy, and I hope that kind of performance gives us a confidence boost heading into Michigan State.” Although Rohrman was ecstatic about the firepower displayed by his offense, he was not the least bit surprised by their capabilities. “I think we’ve had that kind of potential to break out since day one,” Rohrman said. “It was great to see that we are finally able to finish off some of the chances we can create on offense.” The stellar offensive showcase by Miller marked the first time in more than a year that UW has tallied at least five points in a game. Also scoring for Wisconsin was Dirk Pearson, whose second goal in the 34th minute raised his career goal total to six. The Badgers suffocating defense showed up in full force Wednesday night as they shut down all the Huskies scoring opportunities. Sophomore goalkeeper Alex Horwath finished the game with four saves and upped his shutout record to six games. “I thought our guys did a great job on defensive situations,” said Rohrman. “I was pleased with the effort and concentration that we had.”The convincing win over a tough NIU team provides the Badgers with a solid transition into Sunday’s Big Ten showdown against Michigan State University at the McClimon Soccer Complex. The men’s squad will have their hands full with an undefeated Spartans team. “[Michigan State] is going to be a good team,” said Rohrman. “They are not sitting at 5-0-2 for no reason. They have a couple of guys up top that are very strong, and they have put together some good games.” Luckily, the Badgers will see the return of junior forward Victor Diaz Sunday, who missed the team’s last game due to a yellow card accumulation. Diaz, one of UW’s most dynamic offensive weapons, should augment the Badgers blossoming offense. Pablo Delgado, who was replaced by Dirk Pearson last game after suffering a strain in his quadriceps, is still being evaluated by the coaching staff and is questionable for Sunday’s contest. The Spartan squad will not be at full strength this weekend either, as they will be without one of their key players. Injured MSU defensemen Joel Rogers will most likely be replaced by freshmen Nosah Iyoha, who will be making his first career start. Despite the injury, the Badgers understand they will be facing a formidable opponent in Michigan State. “I think we’ve played very well defensively,” Rohrman said. “They are going to see a team from us that is very confident and very good going forward. Hopefully we can make the most of our chances that we create.”The only certainty for this weekend’s contest is that both teams will leave everything on the field.”As it always is with Big Ten games, it is going to be an emotional and high-paced game,” Rohrman said. “It should have a lot of scoring chances. If we do things well, then hopefully we can snuff out the stuff they are going to throw at us.”Both teams understand the magnitude of this game, and the implications a win can have on the Big Ten standings. Although the Badgers can count on their defense to keep them in many games, it will be crucial as they venture into the heart of the season for the offense to improve if UW wants to capture a Big Ten championship.