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St. John’s, Wake Forest fit to be tied, 1-1

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Dave Masur had waited six years for this night to come, the night when the St. John’s men’s soccer team would move from the artificial turf of DaSilva Memorial Field, shared with the football and track teams, and into a stadium it can call its own.

Despite the result, a 1-1 tie with No. 10 Wake Forest in a game dominated by St. John’s, the Red Storm coach couldn’t have been happier about the grand opening of Belson Stadium Saturday night.

“It was great. I think it creates a good environment; it’s an interactive environment that we want to share with our student body, our faculty, our administrators, our alumni, the New York soccer community,” he said. “If you had to rate the whole experience on a 10 scale, it’s a 10. It was unbelievable. Maybe it’s a 9.5 because we didn’t win.”

The recently built stadium, which is on a raised platform with a parking garage underneath and situated next to the baseball field and across from Alumni Hall, was slated to open three weeks ago, but inclement weather delayed construction and the Red Storm was forced to play its home games at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point.

While there still are some finishing touches left for the $6-million soccer specific stadium, which includes building the press and luxury boxes, the sellout crowd of 2,266 which was fortunate enough to get in witnessed a soccer experience unlike any in St. John’s history.

Replacing the artificial football turf, with its running track and a large wall separating the fans from the playing surface at DaSilva Field, is a state-of-the-art FieldTurf surface that has the look and feel of real grass. The bounce of the ball was true and the players were able to slide without worrying about rug burns.

The stands are spectacular, red seat-back chairs with the words “St. John’s” outlined in blue along the grandstand, similar to many of the stadiums in England. Bleacher seats are behind each goal, giving every fan a close view of the field.

The horns and drums provided by the St. John’s Pep Band gave the game a South American samba feel. And many of the St. John’s resident students in attendance introduced themselves to Wake Forest keeper William Hesmer as often as possible, even moving from behind one goal to the other when Hesmer switched sides between overtime periods.

“I saw one of my friends, he had one of the microphones and I heard him go. Then I saw everyone come out from that corner when we were walking out just before kickoff. I heard them, of course, heckling the goalie,” said St. John’s forward Andre Schmid, “I didn’t know the goalie’s name until then. It was Willy.”

“They were loud, I had to yell across the field, but I couldn’t hear anything,” added St. John’s senior defender Rich Bradley. “They were great.”

Schmid brought the already boisterous crowd, which included several members of the 1996 National Championship team as well as St. John’s men’s basketball coach Mike Jarvis and his wife Connie, to its feet when he scored the first goal in stadium history on a brilliant solo effort in the 15th minute.

Schmid read a poor pass back to Hesmer from a Wake Forest defender and deflected his attempted clearance. Schmid turned and took a shot that was stopped by Hesmer. His second shot was blocked by the keeper before finally, on his third shot, Schmid scored from eight yards out for his first goal of the year.

St. John’s (5-1-1) dominated play, outshooting the Demon Deacons 22-6, but Wake Forest did a great job defending and then made the most of a rare scoring chance to tie the game in the 50th minute as midfielder Vincente Bastidas snuck behind the St. John’s defense and slotted the ball off Red Storm keeper Billy Gaudette’s fingertips and inside the far post from 10 yards out.

“The schedule we’ve gone through now and the wars we’ve been through already is what helped,” said Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich. “We didn’t lose our composure, in fact we woke up a bit. We defended, we found a way to survive and then we got one sniff at the goal and we put it away.”

Bastidas’ team-leading third goal of the year snapped the Red Storm’s scoreless streak of 541 minutes, which included five straight shutouts.

“He came through midfield and I closed him down, I thought I had his shot blocked but I slid and it went between my legs,” said St. John’s junior defender Chris Wingert. “Once it got by I knew Billy wasn’t going to have a chance because I had him screened.”

The physical game, which featured 50 fouls and seven yellow cards (six to Wake Forest) went into overtime and the best chance in the extra session went to St. John’s junior midfielder Simone Salinno, whose running header in the box was stopped by Hesmer, who made six saves.

The home stand continues for St. John’s, which defeated Villanova 2-0 Sept. 18. The Red Storm plays conference foes No. 5 Notre Dame (4-1-2) Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and 18th-ranked Pittsburgh (5-2) Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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