St. John’s men’s soccer young and inexperienced

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A lot has stayed the same for the St. John's men's soccer team. After its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Red Storm are ranked 15th in the country. In addition to playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, head coach Dave Masur has yet again assembled a challenging non-conference schedule.

But there is one major difference in this year's Red Storm squad. It will be filled with a plethora of unproven players. With only three returning full-time starters, Masur will rely on 19 newcomers to join seven others who saw limited action last year in what should be the most challenging of Masur's 10 years at St. John's.

"We're going to hopefully learn and grow and the object is trying to test ourselves and push ourselves," Masur said. "We don't know about our mentality as a team and our character and we hope that comes through in good shape because that's going to be a very important quality."

And Masur, the all-time winningest coach in the history of the St. John's program and one of the top five in the nation by winning percentage, will find out quickly how well his youngsters can handle adversity as the Red Storm will face two nationally ranked opponents in the Nike Tournament at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn. this weekend to open the season.

St. John's opens the tournament against No. 7 Duke Friday at 5 p.m. and takes on another Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, 11th ranked Wake Forest, Saturday at 5 p.m.

"We're young, in a sense it's a first experience for a lot of our guys who are going to be going through this and we're starting off with a very difficult schedule," Masur said.

In addition to three of its seven non-conference games against teams ranked in the preseason top 25, the Red Storm, picked to finish second behind the University of Connecticut in the preseason coaches poll, will again face a very difficult conference schedule. The Huskies, ranked fourth in the country after winning the Big East championship and advancing to the College Cup semifinals last year, have taken over the top spot in the conference.

"The Big East is on a rise, even higher than it's ever been," Masur said. "Connecticut, after their season last year and some of their accomplishments, is probably the premier team in the league right now. We used to be the premier team in the league and we just have to strive to get back up there."

Junior midfielder Jeff Matteo, along with senior defender Omar Chavez and senior keeper Jeff Stoklosa are the most experienced players on the team and appropriately named captains for the 2000 season.

"Those three guys have grown from the entry level position in our program where they all had to come in and fight for starting positions all the way through to being captains," Masur said. "We're certainly counting on them to lead the way and show other people what needs to be done."

Matteo, who started 40 of 45 games his first two years at St. John's, is the most highly touted of the three as he is the lone Red Storm player on the preseason All-Big East team. The junior from Stormsville scored five goals and added four assists for 14 points last year.

"I think having all these new players are going to be great," Matteo said. "It was hard the first couple days, but everyone knows everyone and we've all being hanging out as a team together."

Stoklosa, who had a 0.82 goals against average last year, has 12 starts for the Red Storm in two years of platooning with Dan Popik. But with the departure of Popik, Stoklosa is the main man in the net for the Red Storm.

"I can't be more excited," Stoklosa said. "I've been training hard during the spring and summer so I'm ready to go."

Stoklosa is hoping the defense, led by Chavez, will continue to stifle the opposition as it has for several years. The senior from Westchester should be joined by Adam Maurer, a senior transfer from Fresno State, sophomore Dave O'Donnell who Masur said has been impressive in the preseason as well as newcomers Marlon Rojas and Rich Bradley on the backline.

Masur said there is still a host of players who can settle in to play well in the midfield, but he is hoping Matteo, returnees Pat Lonergan and Alberto Duenas will join newcomer and Brooklyn residents Shalrie Joseph and Jme Amoako to lead the pack.

In recent years the Red Storm has struggled to put the ball in the net and Masur is hoping Astoria resident Anthony Theorides, who is entering his third year with the club, can pick up some of the offense lost, with four of the top five scores gone from the 1999 squad, which went 12-6-3 and lost to Penn State in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year.

Joining Theorides, who already scored a goal in the preseason in a 1-1 tie against Virginia, will be highly touted freshmen Chris Wingert, Chris Bennice, Paul Szewczwyk from England as well as Gorgui Mbaye, a sophomore transfer from St. Peter's, and Ernest Murduk from Corona, who played his high school ball at Forest Hills High School.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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