Storm wins huge over Huskies

In their first two matches against Top-5 schools, the Red Storm men’s soccer team escaped with draws.

But with their third chance, on Friday night at Belson Stadium, St. John’s earned a decisive 3-1 victory over Big East rival, No. 5 Connecticut. And on this overcast, breezy night, the Red Storm (7-0-2) had to do it in come-from-behind fashion with goals from Ben Clack, Ale Ivo and Sverre Wegge Gundhus. It was only the second time this season the team was faced with a deficit a deficit; the first being against Boston College, when they came back to finish with a 1-1 tie.

In the third minute of play, St. John’s was whistled for a foul right outside of their own box. The Huskies’ Mike Pezza quickly rolled the free kick to Greg King, who bent a shot past senior Storm goalie Neal Kitson. The UConn goal was the first scored against Kitson this season, halting his school-record scoreless streak at 745:26.

“We had to put our backs a little bit against the wall,” head coach Dave Masur said of the early shortfall. “We knew we had to keep playing and I’m proud that we kept playing.”

Masur’s squad picked up the pace of the game after the goal. Their determination to rebound was exemplified by dominating the possession and keeping constant pressure in the Huskies’ box. Eventually, the Red Storm got even.

After a UConn foul, Nelson Becerra stepped up to take an indirect kick from 25 yards out. The junior midfielder blasted a shot off the Huskies’ defensive wall, which deflected the ball to junior defender Ben Clack’s feet. Clack floated a shot into the upper-left corner of the net to tie the game.

“I was thinking this is going to be it, we’re back in it,” Clack said. “I knew it was going to be tough to stick with it, but it was good to get us out of that hole.”

Clack has been a staple in St. John’s shutdown defense this season, starting all nine games and leading the team in minutes played. Clack explained his mindset on the unfamiliar situation of being behind.
“It’s a little bit of a letdown,” Clack said. “As a leader, you have to tell the team, ‘It’s not over. Stay with it.’ We knew it was early and we would get our chances.”

The defense was a bit depleted on Friday due to injury. Senior captain Rory Quinn sat out because of a hip-pointer injury he suffered in practice early in the week. Quinn is questionable for Sunday’s game against No. 22 Providence. The Red Storm was also without leading-scorer Adam Himeno, who is out up to six weeks with a fractured foot.

The eventual game-winner was scored in the 49th minute by Ivo, his second of the season. Wegge Gundhus tallied his first assist of the season when he played a through-ball to freshman Walter Hines, who served a low cross through the Huskies’ six-yard box. Ivo was there to tap it in and send the 1,826 Storm fans into raucous celebration.

Wegge Gundhus is finally seeing his hard work pay off. Four minutes after catalyzing the game-winning goal, the sophomore from Norway cleaned up a rebound from an Ivo shot in front of the UConn net to put St. John’s up 3-1. The goal was Wegge Gundhus’ first at St. John’s.

“It was a scrappy goal,” Wegge Gundhus said. “I was just there to finish it. My first reaction is to shoot the ball.”
Although on the roster last year, the sophomore forward did not get to play because of an NCAA ban restricting the participation of professional players. For Wegge Gundhus, it’s just nice to be on the pitch again.

“It’s an honor to be part of such a great group,” he said. “Just to be part of the coaches’ plans and to be here is fantastic. The team mentality and morale is also fantastic. It’s an honor.”
St. John’s did well to shutdown reigning Hermann Trophy winner O’Brian White. His footwork and speed frustrated St. John’s for the first 15 minutes, but then Masur noticed an improvement in position and timing from his team, and White rarely factored into the mix after that.
David Reed, Ryan Soroka and Walter Hines added shots on goal for the Storm. Kitson saved six shots to hold the No. 5 team in the nation to only one goal.
St. John’s will take on No. 22 Providence on Sunday at Belson, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.