It was probably not a night of “firsts” St. John’s would have liked.
The men’s soccer team’s game against Hartwick Oct. 19 was supposed to be a non-conference test against a strong – but mid-major and unranked – team.
It turned into a night that will go down in the history books – for all the wrong reasons.
The game, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Hawks, marked the first-ever regular season loss the Red Storm has suffered at Belson Stadium. St. John’s had only lost twice before on their home field since it opened in the fall of 2002 – a NCAA Tournament game that year against Creighton and last year’s Big East Tournament quarterfinals against West Virginia.
“Whether we play home or away,” St. John’s head coach Dave Masur said, “we want to win every game so badly that I try not to put in our mind where we’re playing. We try and take that out of the equation.”
Added Hartwick coach Ian McIntyre, who didn’t know about the home team’s streak: “It’s just as well I didn’t tell them that. Obviously, it’s a tough place to come. St. John’s is a great program, very well coached and they have fantastic players.”
But the game marked another first, as well. St. John’s graduate student and team captain. Matt Groenwald was sent off with a red card in the 83rd minute of play for the first time in his illustrious college career. One minute before the referee pulled the card, and with the score 2-1 in favor of Hartwick, Groenwald beat two defenders and was brought down from behind by Adam Mitchinson inside the 18-yard box setting up a penalty kick for St. John’s graduate student Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph. Alvarado-Ralph’s low liner towards the far corner of the net was saved by Hartwick goalkeeper John Wagenaar.
Frustration was obviously built up, as Groenwald was draped by at least two Hawks defenders all night. Play was getting chippy, even before the penalty kick, when St. John’s freshman Garry Lewis got into an altercation with a Hartwick player.
After a scrum close to the near sideline, Groenwald went to help up a Hartwick player, but was accosted from behind by the Hawks’ Aaron Chibli. Groenwald spun around and gave him a shove and Chibli flopped to the turf hard. Groenwald’s momentum carried him over the prone Chibli and as he was stepping over the fallen defender, Groenwald gave him a kick.
“It’s just a little disappointing how he reacted there,” said Masur, who declined to allow Groenwald to speak to reporters after the game. “It had a bigger impact on today and goes into the next game. Of course, it’s a disappointment.”