On the Marc

STORRS, CONN. – All the dramatic plot devices were set.

St. John’s surged to a 2-0 start in the Big East with wins against Notre Dame and Marquette. Connecticut limped to a 0-2 start with losses to conference neophytes Louisville and Cincinnati.

St. John’s entered the game ranked eighth in the country, Connecticut 12th.

Connecticut packed Joseph J. Morrone Stadium with 5,271 fans to play their most hated rival.

FOX Soccer Channel was on hand to air the match live for the country to see.

All you kept hearing if you were in Storrs, Conn. Friday night was how big a showcase this was for men’s college soccer.

St. John’s players were psyched, to say the least, before Friday’s UConn showdown.

“It’s going to be, by far, the biggest game of my life, my career,” said freshman Garry Lewis after scoring the lone goal in his team’s victory against Marquette last Sunday.

St. John’s leading scorer, Matt Groenwald, broke his nose in an early morning training session the day of the game. You think he wasn’t going to play?

“There’s no way I’m not playing at UConn,” said Groenwald of his broke nose. “[In the] last chance I probably get to play against UConn, there was no way I was sitting out. They have a great environment here. I just took a lot of aspirin before the game and was ready to go.”

Wrote Jeff Stepan in his column in last week’s Torch: “For me it will be the biggest game of my life, against our biggest rivals.”

So, after all the build up, would it be so wrong to say that it was anticlimactic that the two teams played to a scoreless tie?

“They want to beat Connecticut,” a notably peeved Connecticut coach Ray Reid said after the game. “What’s a tie? A tie for either team isn’t very good.”

Added St. John’s coach Dave Masur: “We’re not so sophisticated that we’re looking for a tie on the road.”

The old adage states that a tie is like kissing your sister. Personally, I don’t understand that. I don’t know what Angelina Jolie or Michael Lohan are into, but that’s not my thing. A tie is lukewarm, bittersweet. There’s nothing good about kissing your sister – whether or not you’re a native of the deep, southern United States. But both teams left Morrone Stadium with a single league point √¢?” St. John’s has eight total, UConn now has four after Sunday’s result.

That must mean the Red Storm is in a better position than the Huskies, and therefore must be the real winners? Yes and no.

St. John’s is, indeed, in a position with more leverage, even after its 0-0 tie with Providence Sunday. However, the Johnnies did not come out the big winners.

Groenwald’s broken nose had no effect on the team’s play. The Huskies pressing, pestering style did though.

Especially in the first half, Connecticut forwards rushed St. John’s defenders, forcing them into turnovers and mental mistakes.

If not for the poise shown by sophomore goalkeeper Jason Landers, the Johnnies might very well have lost the game to Connecticut.

UConn freshman forward O’Brian White was challenging Landers the whole match. The Huskies had a 12-3 edge in shots at the end of regulation.

“I thought we had the better of play, but in the end we didn’t finish,” Reid said. “You can dominate a team but if you don’t put it in the back of the net, what do you have to show for it?”

Maybe more than Reid wanted to say. In the regulation, Connecticut looked like the better team. It wasn’t until the second overtime that St. John’s got its best opportunity to score. Groenwald fed Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph about 12 feet from the goal. Alvarado-Ralph beat his defender, but his shot rang off the post.

The Red Storm had no shots in the first half at all. Had St. John’s defeated Providence on the road Sunday, it might feel a little bit more stable about its third-place position in the Big East’s Red Division. The Friars did not win a single game last season. This year, they are much improved (3-0-5, 1-0-3 in the conference), but it is still a team a Top 10 squad in the country should beat.

The Big East is tougher this season. Cincinnati and Louisville have both already beaten Connecticut. Marquette played St. John’s tough in a 1-0 loss. Georgetown, Notre Dame and Seton Hall are all ranked in the top 25.

The Red Storm will not break away from the pack and the Huskies will go on a win-streak to get them back up to a winning record.

By the end of the season, both teams will be where they belong: at the top of the conference. Like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, UConn and St. John’s will be there in the end.

The Big East season is only two weeks old. Come the postseason, the two teams will be right there again.

Don’t be surprised if both teams find themselves back in Storrs Nov. 13 to decide this year’s Big East champion. Kind of like they did in 2001 when Shalrie Joseph (now of the New England Revolution) scored the only goal in a St. John’s win.

Both teams should gain berths into the NCAA Tournament anyway. It would only be right for the two hated rivals to match up then too.

To answer Reid’s post-game question: “What’s a tie?” That’s easy, coach. It was the only fitting result this time.