On The Marc

Dave Masur is probably not what some people might describe as a player’s coach. He’s tough, he expects his players to be extremely disciplined, and he isn’t afraid to push his team to the brink of exhaustion to make sure they are ready to compete with the best teams in country.

It is because of Masur that his St. John’s men’s soccer team is, itself, one of the best teams in the country (ranked No. 10 right now) and has been since the coach took over 14 years ago.

“We’re always stretching the boundaries to take [our play] to a higher level,” Masur said.

Masur has not only stretched the boundaries, he has shattered them completely.

The Red Storm, which has won a national championship (1996) and been to three Final Fours in Masur’s tenure, has become the perennial powerhouse that Duke and North Carolina are to college basketball fans.

In 2003, St. John’s advanced all the way to the national championship game, before being defeated by Indiana by a single goal.

Since that national championship year in ’96, St. John’s has made the NCAA Tournament every year.

In the past two years, the Red Storm have sent defenders Chris Wingert (who won the Hermann Trophy, given annually to the best player in college soccer in 2003), Ryan Kelly, midfielder/defender Chris Corcoran, and goalkeeper Bill Gaudette to Major League Soccer. Wingert, Kelly and Guadette all play for the Columbus Crew.

Former Johnnie Shalrie Joseph, a two-time MLS All-Star, plays for the New England Revolution and Corcoran, last year’s captain, plays for the MetroStars.

If soccer was a more mainstream sport in America, Masur would be even more revered than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UNC’s Roy Williams, because he coaches at St. John’s, New York City’s top school for athletics.

If Masur was the Red Storm’s men’s basketball coach, he would be mentioned in the same breath as Lou Carnesecca and the McGuires.

The branch of Utopia Parkway between Union Turnpike and the Grand Central would be renamed “Dave Masur Way.”

But Masur is a NCAA soccer coach and and does not care about that kind of fame and recognition, not for himself anyway.

This is a man who won’t readily admit that there is a very tangible reason why he has had uncommon success at St. John’s.

“There really isn’t a system,” Masur says, shrugging off any admission of him being one of the best soccer coaches in the country.

His players know the truth though, especially the ones who have played for him the longest.

“Masur has been the one that’s been able to set the standard,” fifth-senior Andre Schmid said, adding that he believes Masur to be “the best coach in the country.”

However, Schmid won’t readily admit what the system really is or whether his coach is the hard-nosed leader that everyone hears stories about.

When asked if he’d call Masur a strict disciplinarian, Schmid replied smiling, “I’d call him coach Masur.”

That might be the only accurate statement one could give about the unique head coach – he is who he is.

Even when pushed to talk more about his system, vagaries are given.

“The key is for players to be open-minded,” Masur said.

Open-minded to what, coach? What kind of soccer voodoo is going on in those practices.

By all indications, and many testimonials, Masur runs a pretty tight ship.

“He’s the authority figure and whatever he says goes,” Schmid said.

There was speculation made last season that Ashley Kozicki and Andrei Gotsmanov, who left for Akron and Creighton, respectively, could not handle the rigors of the St. John’s system.

The coach is tight-lipped about the loss of the two talented players, stating that they are “not on the team anymore” and the team is not worrying about them.

Which is absolutely true – if Kozicki and Gotsmanov could not handle the physical difficulties of playing for Masur, then there would be no reason for the Red Storm to keep them around.

In any sport, talent is thought of as the most important thing to possess, but it comes almost secondary to Masur. Hard work and discipline? That’s Masur’s bread and butter.

“You have to get people out of their comfort zone,” Masur said.

Schmid concurs. The 6-foot-4 forward concedes that, as a player, you have to believe in the system before you can excel as a member of the team, whether or not Masur will admit there is actually a system in place.

“If people aren’t willing to get on board, then they just get left behind,” Schmid said. Might that have happened to Gotsmanov and Kozicki? Maybe.

“There’s no room to waver, you’re not going to catch up,” Schmid adds. “You’re going to get left behind.”

Even Masur admits that there is some level of strenuous training that goes into putting together a dynasty-like college soccer team.

“[The players] need to push themselves, challenge themselves,” Masur said.

St. John’s, which advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last season, will be pushing themselves once again this season, facing an even greater challenge with five talented teams (Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida, DePaul, and Marquette) being added to the Big East.

But once again the Red Storm will have superior talent.

Six seniors, including graduate student Matt Groenwald, on the Hermann Trophy watch list for the second straight year, defender extraordinaire Jeff Carroll, sophomore Steven Old, and Schmid are all among the best players at the their position in the conference.

Plus, St. John’s has a unique weapon that other teams will never be able to figure out: Dave Masur.

Explains Schmid, “I tell all the [freshman] coming in, ‘Buy into whatever he says, he will be the best coach you will ever play for.'”