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Wisconsin men’s soccer: 2021 Season Preview

A unit full of new faces will look to put together a bounce back spring campaign for the Badgers.

@BadgerMSoccer; UW Athletics Communications

Later this month the Wisconsin Badgers men’s soccer team will begin a season unlike any other when they kick off a spring campaign. With fresh snow on the ground in Madison, and a new crop of recruits settled in on campus, coach John Trask will look to rebound from a disappointing 2019 and build back towards the heights the program reached two years ago when the Badgers made the national Sweet Sixteen.

The Badgers will have to look to improve despite several losses from the squad that last took the field in 2019. Perhaps most notable among those departures will be senior goalie and captain Dean Cowdroy. Cowdroy was a mainstay for the squad last season, starting every game between the posts and leading the team in minutes.

Both his leadership and abilities will be sorely missed by a team looking to re-establish themselves in the conference. The outfield captain pairing of Robin Olofsson and Elan Koening have also both graduated, leaving the Badgers with a hole the size of 3000 minutes of play in defense. The midfield was not spared by last spring’s graduation either- Duncan Storey and Noah Leibold both were consistent starters in the center of the park for Trask’s squad that will need to be replaced.

The biggest question mark in the 2021 Badger lineup will be at goalkeeper. Cowdroy’s departure opens the door for a new starter to emerge in net, but who that new starter might be remains to be seen. German native Sven Kleinhas, who arrives as a graduate transfer from Bluefield College and will be the most experienced collegiate goalie of the group, may be someone to keep an eye on to see if he earns the nod.

Also competing for the spot will be sophomores Carter Abbott and Ben Krongard, both of whom served as backups under Cowdroy last year. Their chemistry with defenders after spending a year training with the team could prove crucial in either of them becoming striker. Rounding out the goalkeeping corps is freshman Peter Girzadas, who stands the tallest of any netminder at a towering 6-foot-4.

With the goalie position still uncertain, protecting the net will be key for the Badgers no matter who’s in between the posts in 2021. The defensive corps tasked with doing so will need to be rebuilt from 2019 as well, as they lost a pair of key leaders in Olofsson and Koening.

Senior Ben Leas and junior Zach Klancnik will anchor the unit, each coming off strong campaigns in which they started the majority of matches for the Badgers. Transfer Moritz Kappelsberger will likely also be a key factor at the back, as the 6-foot-3 Germany native arrives from Duquesne bringing loads of experience in college ball, as well as a powerful presence in center defense. Another returnee will be sophomore Justin Bobb, who provides crucial versatility for a Wisconsin side that might switch between lineup combinations in order to find their best group. Several first year players will also factor into the defensive discussion, including Dylan McCrary, Ethan Chung and Liam Bailey.

In the midfield, Iñaki Iribarren should be the man to watch for the Badgers this spring. The sophomore Spaniard put together an excellent rookie campaign, starting nearly every game and tying for the team lead in points. Iribarren has been consistently praised as a leader by coaches and will likely be key to controlling the team’s play. Patrick Yim will be another crucial factor in Wisconsin’s midfield, as the Arlington Heights, Ill. native enters his senior season. A versatile player who is also a skilled defender, Yim has started for two seasons now and will be looking to have his best year yet in 2021.

Fellow senior Michael Russell II will likely round out the Badger starting midfield core, coming off a strong 2019 in which he racked up 1317 minutes. Bobby Harris will bring more experience and depth to the roster after his debut with the program last year. One can expect a large crop of sophomores in Tim Bielic, Grant Tostenrud, Alex Rovirosa and Finn Trondson to all take a step forward and continue to compete for minutes in midfield as well. A strong freshman class will see Murat Calkap, Dawson Gulley and Bennett Pauls all join the program, arriving alongside transfers Austin Holtebeck (sophomore from Drake) and Kyle McCurly (graduate student from Wake Forest) to Madison.

In attack, the projected lineup is a bit more clear. Last year’s joint leading scorer Matthew Comiskey should lead the line, and he’ll likely be accompanied by junior Andrew Akindele on the starting sheet as the former 2018 all-conference freshman looks to return from a 2019 limited by injury. Junior Noah Melick notched four starts last year and will look to grow his role this spring. Henri Tophoven is another transfer who joins the program, making the step up from the PSAC conference where he amassed 42 points in just two years. Michael Wagner will look to emerge for the Badgers in his sophomore season, and he’ll be joined in his quest for his debut by another versatile attacker/midfielder in freshman Eliot Popkewitz. One newcomer to keep an eye on will be Jack Finnegan, who the coaching staff has praised highly and may start contributing right away once the season begins.

Overall, the Badgers’ success this spring season will likely hinge on how quickly a roster full of new faces can rise to the challenge of Big Ten play. Kyle McCurly is perhaps the biggest name in a large crop of transfers, as he brings the pedigree of having played an important role with perennial powerhouse Wake Forest in his undergraduate career.

Moritz Kappelsberger and Henri Tophoven are two more pieces that arrived via transfer, both hoping to convert their fruitful stints at lower levels of the collegiate game into productive careers as Badgers. If the transfer core coach Trask has brought in, along with new freshmen and returning leaders, can gel and adapt to the unique circumstances of the season, the Badgers should be able to put together a nice bounce back year.