The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Big expectations for men’s soccer

Andre Schmid knows all about the importance of playing for a winning team.

The men’s soccer forward red-shirted in 2003, missing the entire season, including St. John’s run to the national championship game.

After coming back to excel as a senior for the Red Storm last year in their trip to the Elite Eight, the fifth-year player understands the pedigree the school’s men’s soccer team has √¢?” and he doesn’t want to be on the team that fails to succeed.

“I don’t want to be [part of] the team that doesn’t perform while I’m here,” said Schmid, explaining his motivation. “I want to make sure that we continue [the tradition of winning at St. John’s].”

It is doubtful that Schmid will have his fear come to fruition this season.

The Red Storm, despite the loss of the transferring Andrei Gotsmanov (Creighton) and Ashley Kozicki (Akron), returns the majority of its nucleus from last year’s squad that won the Big East regular season title and fell to Maryland in the Elite Eight.

Forward Matt Groenwald, named to the Hermann Trophy (the award given annually to the best college soccer player) watch list for the second straight year, and Schmid lead an offense that is expected to be quite potent.

For Groenwald, the list of awards has piled up: he was named to the All-Big East first team last year and was named a pre-season All-America selection by Soccer America.

“Matt brings a little bit of an explosive punch to the team,” head coach Dave Masur, in his 15th year with the team, said.

But there was a big question whether Groenwald, who is now working on his Master’s degree in biology at St. John’s, would have even come back to play in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

The lightning quick 5-foot-8 spark plug could have very well gone on to play in Major League Soccer. In the end, he chose staying in school for academic reasons, and for more psychological ones.

“I just think that I wasn’t ready to move onto the next level,” Groenwald said. “In terms of the mental, I wanted to be at St. John’s.”

And one cannot blame him, as one of the few things he has failed to accomplish as a college soccer player is winning a national championship, something the Red Storm will challenge for yet again this season. The task will be a little different from, and maybe a bit more challenging, than previous years though. Five new teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, and South Florida) have been added to the Big East mix and the majority of them are quality programs.

“We already had so many great teams, so many great rivalries,” Masur said.

That does not seem to bother Schmid too much, as he has not looked at the new teams much and plans on just playing his style of soccer, St. John’s style of soccer, with little regard for the opposing team.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” said the 6-foot-4 California native. “I’m ready to play whoever.”

The team, now 2-1-1, will get started with the newcomers this Sunday when they play Marquette at home at Belson Stadium – a place where they have only lost twice since its opening in 2002 and a venue in which the Red Storm expects to win every game.

“We don’t want to lose at Belson,” Groenwald said.

That is exactly what they did, though, when they lost 1-0 to West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament last season, as Groenwald’s shot in the final minutes slammed off the cross bar.

One thing that stood out in that one-goal game was the stellar play of the Red Storm’s goalkeeper, the since-graduated Bill Gaudette, now a member of MLS’s Columbus Crew.

He was a stalwart for St. John’s last season and was one of the team’s major clutch performers, as was defender Ryan Kelly, who is also in Columbus with Gaudette and former Red Storm star Chris Wingert.

Now, Masur is relying on 6-foot-7 sophomore Jason Landers to keep the team steady in goal as one of the younger net minders the coach has had during his tenure.

“He has a great body for a keeper,” Masur said of Landers.

But that position does come with some competition.

Senior Reed Dailey, who Masur says has “really pushed” Landers for the goalkeeper slot, is waiting in the wings if the lanky, yet agile incumbent does not perform.

Masur allows for a lot of competition for roles on his team, and it is not easy for a freshman to garner a lot of playing time from the coach.

But freshman Tony Beltran, a former member of the United States Under-18 National Team, has plenty of international experience and should see significant field time for St. John’s this season.

“Tony is adjusting to the college game, the physicality of it, the speed of it,” Masur said. “We’re expecting big things from [him].”

Expecting big things? The same could be said for St. John’s this season, as they went into the season ranked No. 5 and now stand as the tenth-ranked squad in the nation.

All of that hype could add up to a lot of pressure, but that’s to be expected for a team that has been to three Final Fours and made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1996.

“St. John’s has enough pressure on itself,” Schmid said. “Every team thinks of us as the team to play that year-The target on our chest is pretty big.”

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