When the St. John’s men’s soccer team takes the field this Friday night, they will likely do so to a packed crowd at Belson Stadium.
Close to 2,000 people will come to see the Red Storm take on the Harvard Crimson, who managed a 5-7-5 record last year while playing in the Ivy League, a conference which has never been confused with athletic excellence.
Freshmen attending their first game will marvel at the atmosphere, laugh at the derogatory chants shouted at the referees and opposing players (as well as opposing players’ girlfriends, and even their grandmothers—nothing is off limits) and probably see a comfortable St. John’s victory.
But if this season follows the same script that past seasons have, that support will slowly dwindle as the season progresses and the weather gets colder. Many of the people who had such a great time early in the season won’t even bother to come out later on. When the stakes rise, the student section will be mostly empty.
Last year’s home opener, a 5-0 thrashing of Fairleigh Dickinson, was played in front of 2,202 people—the third largest crowd in Belson Stadium history. Their final home game, a Big East tournament game against Marquette, had just 988 attendees.
The 2009 season was the same story. A record crowd of 2,518 saw the Johnnies defeat Georgetown, 2-0, in their second home game of the season. But despite being on track for a Big East championship, only 539 fans attended their Senior Night win over Depaul, and 745 saw them beat Rutgers 3-0 in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
The reason why St. John’s students are less apt to support their team is fairly clear. Standing outside for two hours in early September is New York City is one thing. Doing the same in late October or early November is quite another. Most fans don’t care enough about the team to get cold, wet, or both while supporting them.
And they’re worse off for it.
Late season Big East contests don’t have the same lopsided score lines that nonconference games against teams like Fairleigh Dickinson (and, head coach Dave Masur and co. hope, Harvard). What they lack in scoring action however, they more than make up for in intensity, drama and excitement. Big East games that finish 1-0 or 2-1 can be much more exciting
than 5-0 blowouts against overmatched non-confference opponents.
The team is worse off for it too. As any athlete will tell you, playing in front of a sold-out stadium is what they live for. A St. John’s player once commented about how the team talked about creating its own environment when playing on the road to avoid a letdown when playing in front of small crowds. Left unsaid was that they have to do the same when the home fans don’t show up.
The soccer team can’t do anything about the weather. It gets cold. It rains. Most people that go here are used to it. The only thing they can do is play well on the field. And in the last two years, they’ve heated up as the temperature has gotten colder.
In 2009, the team was 3-2-6 to begin the year, including a run of three consecutive 0-0 draws, before ending the season on a 6-1-3 run that culminated in a Big East championship and an NCAA tournament berth.
Last year, the Red Storm opened 0-3-0 in Big East play, but went 4-0-2 to close out the regular season and were likely just one or two wins away from the NCAA tournament.
This year’s team has to replace five starters. In their 3-0 loss against No. 4 Maryland, six players made their Division I debuts. It will take time for them to hit their stride. It’s a strong possibility that the 2011 Red Storm will emulate their 2009 and 2010 counterparts and play their best soccer later in the year.
Let’s hope people are still watching by then.