Taking the Bulls by the horns

In the first half of Saturday’s home game against No. 12 South Florida, the Red Storm men’s soccer team played their opponents to a virtual stalemate.

But just like in any chess match, the victor will find checkmate. No. 4 St. John’s got theirs in a shot from Trevor Chiduku in the 70th minute, the game-winner in a 1-0 triumph that gave the Storm sole possession of first place in the Big East’s Red Division.

First place is exceedingly important as the regular season enters its final two weeks. If St. John’s (12-1-2) can hold on to the spot after the next three games – DePaul and Rutgers away and Cincinnati home – they will have a number one seed and home field guaranteed in the first two rounds of the Big East tournament. The tournament semifinal and final rounds are played in Tampa, Fla.

After 45 minutes of play against the Bulls, St. John’s Nelson Becerra was alone in the box score with the game’s only shot and neither keeper was forced to make a save.

Both teams are nationally recognized as strong defensive programs and the backlines dictated the majority of play on Saturday night.

“Our defense didn’t have any lapses in the game and that was important for us,” head coach Dave Masur said. “We need a tough defensive game every game. That pretty much sums it up.”

The defense did their job and Storm keeper Neal Kitson made three saves to record his ninth shutout of the season. If St. John’s was going to break the deadlock, it was to be done in midfield.

Smart possession and smooth transition is what kept St. John’s in control. Throughout the 90 minutes, forwards were checking back to help on defense and defenders were getting in on the attack. Junior defender David Reed recognizes this as one of the team’s keys to success.

“We try to play complete matches on both sides of the ball,” said Reed, who ranks third on the team in minutes played. “We play 100 percent offense and defense, everybody. Today was one of our more complete team efforts and it was a big win. We basically gave away nothing this whole game.”

The team effort resulted in St. John’s only shot on goal in the 70th minute. Becerra picked up his fourth assist and team-leading 14th point when he passed to Chiduku, who only had Bull keeper Jeff Attinella to beat. Chiduku slid a low, near-post shot into net for his fifth goal of the season, which ties him with Becerra for the team lead.

This marks the third game in a row in which Chiduku scored a goal. The St. John’s student section was waiting for the sophomore’s signature African dance celebration, but he was too wrapped up in the moment to perform.

“Once again, I was so happy, I totally forgot,” Chiduku said. “I promise. Next game.”

According to Masur, his team also showed some fortitude and physical prowess, especially from forward Sverre Wegge Gundhus. The sophomore recorded one shot, played all 90 minutes and was involved with many of the Red Storm’s attacks.

“Sverre did a remarkable job up front today. He held the ball a lot and took a beating for the team,” Masur said. “He kept getting smacked by the center backs and almost scored a couple goals himself.”

With first placed secured for now and a seven day layoff, the team will take a couple days off before getting two practices in before their Friday trip to Chicago. Right now, DePaul is the only focus for Masur, who sees no importance of first place in the standings as of yet.

“There is no significance,” Masur said. “There are three more games left in the Big East. We’re fighting for everything and every game matters.”