On the Marc

St. John’s men’s soccer players have always been adamant about not losing at Belson Stadium.

Before this season began, graduate student Matt Groenwald and senior Andre Schmid both mentioned the importance of “protecting” their home field.

“We don’t lose at Belson,” said Groenwald in an interview before Big East games started.

They are very conscious about their team’s home pedigree – the Red Storm only lost twice at Belson since the facility opened in the fall of 2002: a Big East quarterfinals defeat at the hands of West Virginia and a NCAA Tournament loss to Creighton in 2002.

St. John’s had never lost a regular season game at Belson.

Until the night of Oct. 19.

That night, many unexpected things happened. Graduate student Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph was denied on a second-half penalty kick. Groenwald was sent off the field with a red card.

But the biggest shock was, Hartwick, an unranked team from upstate New York, handing mighty, sixth-ranked St. John’s its first regular season home loss since Belson opened.

The biggest shock? Sure. But the loss was the least consequential out of any of the previous ones.

“We played decent,” Schmid said. “We did everything we wanted to do.”

Added St. John’s coach Dave Masur: “We played fairly well, if not very well.”

There was definite disappointment though, despite Masur’s claims.

“I try not to look at [streaks or records],” Masur said. “Whether we’re playing home or away, we want to win every game so badly, we try not to put it in mind where we’re playing.”

No matter the posturing after the fact, the fact is that a loss at Belson does matter to St. John’s.

It hurts more than other losses. Some might feel it damages the team’s reputation as one of the best home teams in the country.

But, when you get right down to it, does it really matter? No. Not this year. Maybe not ever.

Are teams going to be less fearful of the mystique of Belson when they play there from now on because of the one regular season loss? Not a chance.

The Red Storm’s strength at home pitch will be intact for the rest of this season and for as long as the team is good.

The FieldTurf playing surface is very unique, and sometimes difficult to navigate. A stadium atop a parking lot is much different from other team’s facilities.

Most of all, the raucous student section fans, always sitting behind the opposing goalkeeper and screaming all kinds of unprintable exclamations, have become infamous in college soccer circles.

Hartwick coach Ian McIntyre did not even realize St. John’s special streak.

“It’s just as well I didn’t tell [them] that,” McIntyre said. “Obviously it’s a tough place to come [play]. St. John’s is a great program, very well coached and they have fantastic players.”

And all of those things won’t change after the Red Storm loss to the Hawks.

When the St. John’s men’s basketball team won at Duke on Feb. 26, 2000, did that change the allure of playing in Durham? No.

Even today, it’s still one of the biggest challenges playing against the Blue Devils in front of the Cameron Crazies.

While playing at Belson in front of the Redzone student section does not quite have the same effect, the Duke men’s basketball-St. John’s men’s soccer comparison is rather accurate.

The Hartwick game will go down as the team’s first regular season loss at Belson, yes.

But this year, it will just be another small notch in the loss column √¢?” and not even the Big East section of those standings either.

It might as well have been an exhibition game. A mid-week loss to a mid-major team? Eh, nothing to get upset over.

This is how St. John’s should view it for the rest of the season.

If it’s not going to drive them to be even more stalwart at home (which is pretty difficult to imagine), then it should just be forgotten as insignificant.

If this were a big conference game against UConn or Notre Dame, it would be a ton more serious.

Not because Hartwick is a bad team, but because St. John’s always gets up against its conference rivals.

The Red Storm tied the Huskies, 0-0, in Storrs and looked great against the Fighting Irish at home, beating them 2-1.

The Hartwick Hawks? Please. Bring on the next ranked team. With that said, St. John’s loss to South Florida on Oct. 15 was a bit more disturbing.

Granted South Florida, a team the Red Storm defeated 5-0 last year, is much improved and one of the best teams in the Big East without getting any recognition for it.

But, because the game was not played at Belson, people will merely brush it off as not a home loss.

The defeats by South Florida and Hartwick marked two straight losses for St. John’s.

The last time the Red Storm lost two straight games (to North Carolina State and Wake Forest in 2003) they went to the national championship game.

The last time St. John’s lost to Hartwick? A first round NCAA Tournament game in 1995. Now that’s a big loss.

But Masur’s team won the national title a year later.

The Big East Tournament begins a week from Wednesday. St. John’s has already clinched a bye in the first round and is guaranteed to host a home game in the quarterfinals.

If the team wins that game – and it has a great chance in doing just that – the memory of the bitter loss to Hartwick will be forgotten instantly.

Streaks are nice. Protecting your home turf with a culture of winning is admirable. Big East championships? Much more important.