Great teams don’t rebuild, they reload.
After compiling a 17-3-3 record, winning the Big East Tournament and advancing to the Final Four last season, the men’s soccer team will have to replace its two most potent weapons – All-Americans Jeff Matteo and Shalrie Joseph – who combined for 16 goals and 41 points in 2001.
Both seniors were the heart and soul of the team, scoring key goals throughout the season, a year that ended with a double-overtime loss to Indiana, 2-1.
With the two spots open in the midfield, the Red Storm will rely on its annual staple of goaltending and defense to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season.
The defense will be led by Big East Pre-season Defensive Player of the Year, Chris Wingert.
The junior, who was a starter on the U.S. Under-23 National Team, will lead a defensive core that returns as one of the tops in the nation, despite the loss of Joseph.
Senior Rich Bradley returns from injury and will join Alberto Duenas, Pat Lonergan and Matia Damiani in protecting the net.
“It’s great to have Alberto and Pat back there with me,” Wingert said. “It just gives us another year under our belt.
“We feel real comfortable [together] and that the defense will be a strong point of the team.”
Head Coach Dave Masur will have a tough choice on whom to place between the pipes. Senior Guy Hertz, will be battling for playing time with junior Bill Gaudette, who missed last season with a foot injury.
Hertz was in goal for all 17 St. John’s victories and posted a minuscule 0.59 goals against average.
“He’s a little hurt,” Masur said of Gaudette. “He’s battling away so we just have to see day-by-day.”
In the midfield, replacing the offense left by the void of Matteo will fall on the feet of sophomore Chris Corcoran, who scored three goals and assisted on another as a starter last season.
Duenas, who tied for the team lead in assists in 2001, will also see time at midfield.
Juniors Simone Salinno, Chris Bennice and sophomore Matt Groenwald will look to contribute to the St. John’s offense.
Up front, Angel Rodriguez, the team’s returning leading scorer with eight goals and two assists, will be joined by sophomores Andre Schmid and John Carrozza.
Schmid has the potential to score at will, and the one-two punch he forms with Rodriguez could propel the Johnnies back to the Final Four.
A pair of talented freshmen will press for playing time during the upcoming season. Jean Camere, a native of Venezuela from Miami, Florida, and Texas native Mark Futrell could add to the Johnnies offensive punch.
Futrell was a member of the United States Under-16 National Team and a 2002 National Soccer Coaches Association of America high school All-American.
Other freshmen that could contribute include Jeff Carroll, Kevin Norman and John Mendes.
Belson Stadium replaces DaSilva Field as the team’s home and is the crown jewel of the school’s soccer program.
Using a new age FieldTurf, which is more like natural grass than regulation AstroTurf, the 2,300 seat stadium is a state-of-the-art facility that will now allow St. John’s to host upcoming Big East and NCAA Tournament contests.
“I think its extraordinarily exciting,” Masur said. “Everybody is going to be really pumped up about getting onto the new surface in the new stadium and it’s going to be a real prime time opportunity for us.”
The Red Storm start the season as the third-ranked team in the country, behind Indiana and Stanford, but that didn’t stop the Big East coaches from choosing St. John’s to finish second in the conference’s preseason poll.
Second, behind hated rival Connecticut. “That’s all right,” Wingert said. “UConn is going to have a great team this year. For other coaches to pick that is understandable. To be second in a conference like the Big East is an honor in itself.”
From top to bottom, the Big East is one of the stronger conferences in the nation. Five teams (SJU, UConn, Rutgers, Boston College and Syracuse) were ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Squads such as Notre Dame and Seton Hall are always competitive every year, meaning that there are no easy games once the conference schedule begins.
Outside of the conference, St. John’s plays anyone and everyone. After hosting a tournament on Sept. 6-7 that will feature a rematch with Indiana and a game against Florida International, the school the Storm defeated for the 1996 National Title, the Johnnies will take part in the Rutgers Classic on Oct. 4-6.
There they will play Old Dominion and UCLA, a preseason top 15 team. In addition to these national powerhouses, St. John’s will play local rivals Adelphi and Long Island University.