A new chapter

Men’s soccer head coach Dave
Masur says that no position on his team is set yet.

So, before Big East play begins for St. John’s men’s soccer, the team will taste their first competition during the pre-season, when all the players’ efforts will be on trying to win playing time.

Masur is entering the season without putting too much of a load on the shoulders of any of his veterans and allowing his eight new recruits the opportunity to force themselves into the Red Storm’s starting eleven.

“It’s wide open for positions,” Masur said. “No one has a position on our team right now.”

Though no position is yet certain, fans can expect to see some familiar faces on the team. Defenders Joel Gustafsson and Ben Clack will likely see first-team action.

Midfielder Rory Quinn is returning as a redshirt senior and was pegged by coach Masur as one of the team’s leaders and a potential captain, although captains have not yet been named officially.

With these important returning starters, however, there are also some key losses. Most notable is goalkeeper Jason Landers, the 6-foot-7 goalkeeper who has been a St. John’s staple in the net for the last three years.

“The main person we’re losing is Jason Landers in the goal,” coach Masur said. “That’s going to be a tough spot
to fill.”

Replacing him is one of the main tasks coach Masur is set with this season.

Landers’ backup last season, Neal Kitson, returns to compete for the job. He got his minutes in last season, playing in 11 games, starting nine, while Landers was out with an injury.

Coach Masur has also brought in new players to compete for the job. Nunzio Belfiore, a Brooklyn product from Xaverian High School, was captain at Xaverian for three seasons and currently plays as the starting keeper for the under-18 MLS Academy New York Redbulls.

Aside from Belfiore, seven other new players have been announced as part of the 2008 recruiting class. Matt Bienkowski, Josh Faga, Cristian Gonzales, Walter Hines, Connor Lade, Austin Phillips and Pablo Punyed are all set to join the squad.

“I’m hoping guys come in and help contribute, including the new players,” coach Masur said.

Masur was hesitant to name who would be the standout performers of the group.

“It’s been interesting that every year, a lot of times, there are certain players that we feel are going to take more time than other players, but they do a better job somehow,” he said. “You get surprises.”

Other key losses include defender Jeff Stepan and forward Omar Alfonso. “In the back part of our field, [Stepan] did such a great job for us,” coach Masur said. “Omar Alfonso gave us some punch up front.”

That punch will now have to be replaced, as Alfonso and Stepan combined for eight of St. John’s 24 goals last season, tying each other for the team lead with four apiece.

Some will have to come from Ryan Soroka, who scored nine in his debut season with the Red Storm, but only two in his sophomore campaign.

“We expect Ryan to really step up and have an impact at the top,” said
coach Masur.

However, Masur added that he is not relying on a return to the goal-scoring pace of Soroka’s freshman year.

What he expects, rather, is a balanced attack instead of one player up front doing all the work.

“We’re not looking at just Ryan,” he said. “We’re looking at our midfielders, our defenders. The years we won our championships, we had goals coming from all different spots. Not one person is supposed to score all our goals.”

He stressed the importance of working on all aspects of his team’s game, from set pieces, to counterattacking, as means of goal production.

In this way, Masur hopes to improve on their Big East quarterfinals finish from last season, where they were ousted by Notre Dame.

“Our hopes are always to get far in the NCAA tournament,” he said, “to win a Big East championship, to push our team to the limit, to go as deep as we can.”