Men’s soccer team upsets St. John’s

Heading into Wednesday’s game against Big East powerhouse St. John’s, the men’s soccer Wildcats struggled to find positives from the past week of competition. The team had not scored more than one goal in the previous four games, Cincinnati had handed Villanova a demoralizing late game loss over the weekend, and the St. John’s Red Storm loomed as the highly ranked Big East bully ‘Nova had not beaten in over fifteen years.

The Wildcats are not the only team to struggle against St. John’s; the Red Storm has been ranked in the national top ten for the past fifteen years. St. John’s continually reloads its talent and some players are international recruits. This year, St. John’s star midfielder is a leading candidate for the Herman Award, which is soccer’s version of the Heisman. But as it turns out, one goal was all that the underdog Cats would need to upend the perennial champs. In perhaps the greatest upset of the Coach Sullivan era, Villanova shut out St. John’s 1-0 to simultaneously silence the doubters and keep their goal of post season play very much alive.

Villanova played Lafayette away last Wednesday to a 1-1 double OT tie. Lafayette is not a Big East team so this game was an opportunity for Coach Sullivan to shuffle his lineup in an attempt to ignite the offense. The team had struggled to score as of late. This disturbing trend threatened to carry over into another tense overtime before senior captain Pat Gallagher scored off a header in the 84th minute. Villanova barely had time to celebrate the end of their scoring draught because Lafayette added a goal of their own twenty seconds later. Two overtimes could not decide a winner and ‘Nova had to settle for the tie. Coaches and players were more than upset as this was game they thought they should have won. Things could have been worse, however, considering the Wildcats had to play a man down in the final OT due to a double yellow card ejection.

Villanova traveled to Cincinnati last Saturday where senior captain Brett Stassfurth played his first college game in his home state of Ohio. Stassfurth pleased his hometown fans when he tied the game at one towards the end of the first half. The Bearcats went on to score two more goals in the second half, the second of which was a result of Villanova pressing for the tying goal. “Cincinnati was bigger, stronger and better,” Sullivan said. “They deserved to win.”

This past Wednesday, based on St. John’s record, ranking and program’s history, Villanova entered the contest as the underdog. The ‘Cats, despite the chilly weather, came out on fire and proceeded to knock St. John’s off their pedestal. It only took seven minutes for the Wildcats to score, but it was another 83 minutes before they could collect the win. Freshman Adam Brazitis scored the game’s lone goal with his head following a Brett Stassfurth corner kick. The team wisely kept their composure following the early goal so as to not fall into the same trap which denied them a win at Lafayette.

Following the goal, St. John’s displayed the magnitude of their skills for the remainder of the game. Most of the game was played in Villanova’s defensive half as it became their game to lose. Villanova fans had to repeatedly hold their collective breath when St. John’s players penetrated the box or unleashed blistering shots on or near the goal. Keeper Jason Friel came up big while totaling a career high eight saves and a fifth shutout. Fellow sophomores Matt Sleece and Neil McNulty were also an integral part of the team’s defensive stand. Following the game, Sullivan didn’t say much as he sat down and soaked in the sweet victory. He congratulated the team on their collective effort. “Today, we turned the corner,” he said.

As a result of their win, Villanova stays undefeated at home. This is also their second win over a nationally ranked opponent. “We are on our way,” Sullivan said. The ‘Cats are in Syracuse tomorrow, and then back home on Monday for their final home game against DePaul.