Six minutes into overtime of the Big East Championship game on Sunday, South Florida’s Sebastian Thuriere broke the 0-0 tie with a golden goal and ended St. John’s chance to hoist the conference crown.
After a 90 minute defensive battle, Red Storm goalkeeper Neal Kitson made a save and rebounded the shot back into play. The ensuing pass was shot by Thuriere, who fired it into the net before streaking shirtless toward his ecstatic teammates to celebrate their first Big East title since joining the conference in 2005.
Storm defenseman Joel Gustafsson remembers the play from the 1-0 loss almost too vividly, and said it was his mistake that produced the goal. He said he was turned around by the attacker, which led to the game-changing shot.
“It was heartbreaking, but I was proud of the guys because we played hard all game,” Gustafsson said. “We just have to accept it somehow. We knew it was going to be tough. And we’ve been playing great all season.”
The junior defender also said the loss was hard to swallow because the tournament trophy would have marked the first time in over a decade that the Johnnies won both the regular season title and the tournament championship.
The Bulls’ golden goal was the result of a swift counter attack, something head coach Dave Masur said USF utilized for the duration of the game. He said his team defended the quick transitions well early on, but that final hiccup cost St. John’s the champions’ banner.
“We gave away a scrappy goal and we all know we have to do better,” Masur said.
“It was a little disappointing,” he added. “I thought we gave up too many counter attacks and we weren’t physically tough enough at certain times. There’s a certain aggression you need to win close games like that.”
USF had their chances to avoid extra time and secure the win in the first half. After a Kitson deflection in the 39th minute, a shot by the Bulls caught Kitson off-guard and David Reed was there to prevent a South Florida goal.
As Reed’s teammate in the backfield, Gustafsson has seen him improve immensely since joining the team.
“David’s just great when it comes to doing the small things,” Gustafsson said. “I haven’t met a guy who is as focused as David. It’s unbelievable.”
The defense put up its usual fight on Sunday, but the lack of offense put a little added pressure on Kitson and the back four. Some of the shortcomings Masur saw in the title game will need to be adjusted moving forward to the NCAA Tournament, according to the 18th-year head coach.
Masur said quality of service and the accuracy and aggressiveness in the attacking third need to be improved when they host upcoming Tournament games.
The Red Storm also had opportunities to score in the first half. Nelson Becerra, the freshly-crowned Big East Midfielder of the Year, had a shot blocked in the 40th minute and freshman Walter Hines sent a header just wide following a corner kick in the 41st minute. In the 44th minute, Tadeu Terra sent a curling corner kick on goal, but USF keeper Jeff Attinella pushed the ball over the bar.
Attinella made his second save of the game when he denied a header by forward Ale Ivo.
St. John’s finished the pre-NCAA Tournament season with a 16-2-3 record, including a perfect record at home.