Illinois soccer look to end 3-game skid against Wisconsin

For an ailing Illinois soccer team, a one-match weekend could not come at a better time. The team has lost one player for the season with a couple more still questionable for this weekend. The Illini will be delighted to face just one opponent as opposed to the usual two, but that opponent comes at an inopportune time.

The Illini (6-5-2, 1-3-1 Big Ten) welcome a Badgers team (8-2-2, 3-1-1) that has lost just once in its last five games and are fourth in the Big Ten. In contrast, Illinois is 10th with just four points in the Big Ten and are on a three-game losing streak.

“It’s a thin team, and they were thin on confidence on Sunday,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “What we’re trying to do this week is sort of re-establish what we’re good at and re-establish what the players are capable of doing.”

Illinois traveled to Purdue and Indiana in its first Big Ten road trip last weekend. The Illini dropped both games by one goal, which they believe was punishment for a lack of cutting edge on the attack. The Illini created a number of chances over both games but were only able to convert twice. For much of the season, the problem for the team had been keeping the balls from the back of the Illinois net, but the recent offensive woes were magnified as the team was held scoreless for the first time this season.

“I think we didn’t capitalize on those one and two big chances we had,” midfielder Aliina Weykamp said. “It gave them more confidence and after they got their first goal, it kept building more confidence. We just need to score those easy goals.”

The team spirit is certainly lifted with the news that freshman defender Casey Conine and sophomore midfielder Reagan Robishaw will be available for selection on Saturday. Team captain Vanessa DiBernardo has been limited in practice this week but the coaching staff is hopeful for a return to the side this weekend. The return of those players should see some strength return to the top of the roster, but Rayfield doesn’t believe fewer injured players fixes the problem.

“We’re going to get some players back, but those players (coming) back doesn’t connect the pass for the player who’s already on the field,” Rayfield said. “The players on the field have to play at the level they are capable of … and if we can do that then we’ll go into Saturday feeling good about ourselves.”

Illinois defense will have its hands full with the Wisconsin offense. The attack of the Badgers has come from almost anywhere on the field with eight different players getting on the scoresheet so far this season. The creative force for Wisconsin has largely been diminutive sophomore midfielder Kinley McNicoll, who has six goals and nine assists this season for a team-leading 21 points.

The Badgers have a better record than Illinois and the Illini are well aware they are underdogs, but they aren’t mailing it in yet.

“We haven’t shown the Big Ten what we’re made of yet and we’re really excited this weekend,” Weykamp said. “They should be ready for us.”

Lanre can be reached at [email protected] and @WriterLanre.