It’s hard to tell when a team struggles offensively or is simply bogged down by a notoriously talented defense.
This was the dilemma for the No. 4 St. John’s men’s soccer team in its 0-0 double-overtime draw to DePaul on Saturday afternoon. Both squads put five shots on goal and both nationally recognized goalkeepers registered five saves in the 110 minutes of the Big East Red Division matchup. The Red Storm’s Neal Kitson and the Blue Demon’s Brian Visser each had a save in overtime.
“It was a tough defensive game both ways with little offensive chances for both teams,” head coach Dave Masur said. “But we thought we would be able to create more than we were able to.”
St. John’s (12-1-3) forward Sverre Wegge Gundhus nearly found the game-winner late in the first 10-minute overtime period. His presence in the DePaul box created a potential game-ending shot, but his attempt was tipped by Visser and clanked off the crossbar, sending the contest into double overtime in a dead heat.
The Blue Demons got their chance at a dramatic finish when John Kornfeld sent a one-time liner towards the Storm net. Determined to post his 11th shutout of the season and help his team to a difficult conference point on the road in chilly Chicago, Kitson laid out to make the save and preserve the draw.
Masur completely expected the struggle. DePaul, now in third place in the Red Division with 14 points, has only allowed eight goals in 15 games this season, and more importantly, has not let up a single goal in four overtime games. Visser currently ranks ninth in the NCAA with a .505 goals against average. Naturally, Masur chose to reflect on some positive from the hard-fought road battle.
“We know that they are strong in overtime,” the 18th-year coach said. “[Gundhus] had a great run in the box and we got a little unfortunate with the tip. Some of the things that stood out for us were our defensive play in the box and being in the right spots. It was only one step in the season and we have a couple huge games coming up.”
One of the lasting characteristics in St. John’s stingy defense this season is the ability to quiet some of the brightest offensive stars in the Big East. The Johnnies have shut down Notre Dame’s Bright Dike (24 points), Seton Hall’s Samuel Petrone (21 points) and reigning Hermann Trophy winner O’Brian White (14 points) from Connecticut in 2008.
The Red Storm defense continued that style on Saturday, as they held DePaul’s goals and points leader, Steffen Vroom, in check.
“We’re really concentrating on shutting down [opponent’s] offensive strengths,” Masur said. “Sometimes it’s individual and sometimes it is team wide.”
With the draw, the first place Red Storm clinched a berth into the Big East Tournament. They hold a one-point lead over South Florida, who St. John’s beat 1-0 last weekend. More importantly, they hold a six-point lead over third-place DePaul. The top two seeds in each Big East division receive a first round bye in the conference tournament.
“We learn every time from every game and we try to change things and make adjustments,” Masur said of the push towards the postseason. “The players are fighting to keep form and contribute to continue to keep the success.”