Freshman converts an OT penalty kick for win

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. As you trudge toward your morning classes, you can hear a God-like, amplified voice bellowing from the elevated Belson Stadium. Be sure, it is not the Almighty One directing his band of heavenly all-stars. It is men’s soccer head coach Dave Masur with a megaphone at practice, continuing to strive for perfection.

During the weekend road trip that resulted in a 0-0 draw with No. 3 Notre Dame and a 1-0 double-overtime win over Marquette, No. 4 St. John’s (6-0-2) desire for flawlessness was embodied by Neal Kitson.

The senior goalkeeper recorded shutouts No. 6 and 7 on the year and broke former-Johnnie Jason Landers’ scoreless streak in the process. In addition, Kitson saved a career-high 11 shots against Notre Dame, was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Week for the third time this season and was voted on to this week’s College Soccer News national team.

“It was a big week for the team,” Kitson said. “We came away from a road trip with four points out of six. Notre Dame was a very hard game. On a personal note, it is an achievement. Jason was a good friend of mine.”

Kitson is speaking of his new school record, now set at 742 minutes and counting. Landers’ mark was 674 minutes of scoreless soccer set in 2006.

“But when it comes down to it, it’s the defense,” Kitson said. “They’ve been strong all year. They’ve given huge contributions to the fact that we’ve only given up one goal this year.”

Three of the points earned this weekend came from the win over Marquette. The stonewall defense was the usual suspect on Sunday, but an unlikely hero stepped up to net the Red Storm’s only goal of the weekend.

Freshman Bjorn de Hoop was called on to take a penalty kick early in the second overtime after Ryan Soroka was brought down in the Golden Eagles’ box. de Hoop, who has seen limited minutes in 2008, approached the penalty spot with the confidence of a senior. He buried the game-winner in the right side of the goal.

“It’s a great feeling,” de Hoop said. “I came all the way from the Netherlands to play and it’s just a great feeling for the team that we won. I came in and did well. I was focused on making the PK.”

Kitson, who added five saves in the win, couldn’t bear to witness the freshman’s attempt at the winning free kick.

“I didn’t watch it, actually,” Kitson said. “I had a towel pulled over my head; I didn’t want to watch it. I only knew we scored when I heard the silence from the crowd.”

St. John’s regular penalty-takers – Tadeu Terra, Ale Ivo and Nelson Becerra – were either getting a breather or not playing on Sunday. Masur’s decision to put the game in de Hoop’s hands was simply based on the hot hand strategy.

“Bjorn strikes the ball cleanly,” Masur said. “He’s been doing everything right, off the field and on the field. He hasn’t been complaining about not playing. He got in the game and was playing very well. So all those things add up and usually good things will happen to people who are doing the right things.”

The win came after a hard-fought tie against a talented Fighting Irish team. A point was earned, but Masur feels some “choppy” play may have cost the Storm valuable possession time, keeping Kitson extremely busy on that night in Indiana.

“We’ve played against Notre Dame many times and we usually don’t give up that many chances,” Masur said. “We were a little disappointed about that, but we like the fact that we’re very resilient and we brought our depth.”

St. John’s opens Big East play at Belson on Friday when archrival Connecticut (4-0-3, 2-0-0 Big East) travels to Queens. The Red Storm closes out their Big East home-opener weekend with a matchup against the Providence Friars.