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Without a loss, St. John’s knocked from top spot

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By Dylan Butler

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — It was their first game since being ranked No. 1 for the first time ever during the regular season and the St. John’s men’s soccer team had mixed results at the Rutgers Philips/Adidas Soccer Classic this weekend at Yurcak Field.

After destroying Old Dominion, 4-0, Friday night, the Red Storm dominated No. 17 UCLA in a scoreless tie Sunday afternoon. Yet, somehow the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, the coaches’ poll, dropped St. John’s from No. 1 to third in the country.

Stanford returns to the top spot despite struggling to defeat San Jose State, 4-3 in overtime. Wake Forest moved from No. 3 to No. 2 after shutting out William and Mary and NC State.

The Red Storm remained the No. 1 team in the country in the CollegeSoccerNews.com, Soccer America and Soccer Times polls.

“It’s just the way it goes. Rankings are very subjective,” said St. John’s coach Dave Masur. “It’s no big deal. We have to concentrate on Rutgers and focus on that particular match.”

St. John’s captured the tournament title, their third in 11 years and first since 1996, but Red Storm players still were disappointed about not beating a UCLA team that played eight men behind the ball after defender Aaron Lopez was sent off for elbowing Rich Bradley as both players battled for a 50/50 ball in the 62nd minute.

“It was frustrating, annoying,” said Bradley, who had a welt over his left eye as a souvenir of Lopez’s challenge. “It just turns into one frustrating battle. It’s tough to score on five vs. eight and a goalie. They just packed it in. It was smart on their part to come away with a tie instead of a loss, which is what they were looking for.”

After a fairly even first half, St. John’s (8-1-2) dominated possession in the second half and both 10-minute overtime periods, outshooting UCLA 9-0 during that time. But the Red Storm struggled to get quality scoring chances as most crosses were sent out by a bevy of Bruins in the box.

“We did fairly well, but we need to be cleaner and sharper in the attacking end of the field and we need to be a little bit tougher in that attacking end of the field,” said St. John’s coach Dave Masur. “I thought we got pushed off some balls in our attacking zone where we need to be a little bit more physical and consistent with our effort.”

Having to play a man down for most of the second half and overtime, UCLA first-year coach Tom Fitzgerald is pleased with the draw, the Bruins second of the tournament (UCLA also tied host Rutgers, 1-1 Friday night).

“We had to defend because they’re a very good offensive team, they’re technically very good, they’re tactically pretty sound, they were trying to get us unbalanced and obviously work on their services to get it in the box but we handled it pretty well,” he said.

“The bottom line is, we didn’t give up a goal, we didn’t lose and we played almost the whole second half a man short against the No. 1 team in the country so I’m very happy with our performances this weekend.”

Bradley led the Red Storm with six shots and had some of the best scoring chances in overtime, but he flicked a header over the net with 12 seconds left in the first overtime and his header from six yards off a goal line cross from Andre Schmid popped straight up in the air.

“You definitely need a perfect strike and that’s something we didn’t get,” Bradley said. “It was tough to come by. It wasn’t going to happen easily. We did have our chances but we were a little off today up top.”

While St. John’s players took the No. 1 ranking as an honor, they also realized it served as a bull’s-eye for opponents looking to get a win over the top-ranked club to improve their resume.

“As a team we’re very proud to be No. 1 but it’s very difficult because if a team beats us it could make their whole season,” said junior goalkeeper Billy Gaudette, who notched back-to-back shutouts. “The No. 1 team in the country has the hardest responsibility because every game, every team comes out and gives everything they have to beat you.”

St. John’s faces an even stiffer challenge when it returns to Yurcak Field to take on No. 14 Rutgers in a game played Wednesday night. The Scarlet Knights came from behind to tie UCLA Friday night and defeat ODU, 3-2, in overtime Sunday. The game, the 13th meeting between the rivals, should prove to be another classic.

“It’s always a battle, to say the least,” said junior defender Chris Wingert, who was named the tournament’s Defensive MVP. “I’d say they’re one of our biggest rivals, if not our biggest rival. We have a lot of history with them and they have a good team, so we just have to be ready to go and come in here sharp.”

St. John’s 4, Old Dominion 0. Chris Corcoran, who was named the tournament’s Offensive MVP, netted the game’s first goal with 45 seconds left in the first half and the Red Storm added three more as Angel Rodriguez, Simone Salinno and Bradley scored to give St. John’s a commanding 4-0 lead in the opening eight minutes of the second half.

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

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