The Terriers are alpha dogs now.
The St. Francis men’s soccer team notched a 1–0 victory over Northeast Conference rival Long Island University at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5 on Nov. 6, wrapping up the program’s first regular-season conference title since 1997. It was also a bit of a revenge win — the Blackbirds defeated St. Francis in the Northeast Conference semifinals on penalty kicks last season — and the entire squad had this game circled on the calendar.
“It starts from the forwards to the midfield to our back four to our goalkeeper,” said St. Francis head coach Tom Giovatto, now in his 10th season. “They did a really good job today of staying in our shape, not overreacting, cutting off passing lanes.”
Yussuf Olajide tallied the match’s lone goal after beating Long Island University (10–5–2, 4–2–1) keeper Logan Keys on a nifty set-up from defender Dominick Falanga in the 27th minute of play. Falanga beat Blackbirds defender Erik Wahlin and threaded a pass in front of the Long Island University net to a wide-open Olajide, who calmly put home his team-leading sixth goal of the season.
By virtue of the win, the top-seeded Terriers (10–4–3, 6–0–1) will host the conference tournament, opening with a match against No. 4 Sacred Heart on Nov. 11. St. Francis has a shot at its third Northeast Conference title in four years and this latest victory is a major stepping stone for the program.
“It’s great to win the regular-season title,” Giovatto said. “Not only for the kids, but to see so many alumni in the crowd and the smiles they get from winning today, it’s great for everybody.”
St. Francis’ success is built on team defense. The Terriers squad has pitched nine shutouts, yielding a paltry 12 goals all season, and the team shut down the Blackbirds’ high-octane offense, led by sophomore Rasmus Hansen — the conference’s leading scorer with 11 goals and seven assists.
“We were not connecting on passes and playing to the level that we normally do,” said Long Island University coach T.J. Kostecky, who has led the Blackbirds the past 18 seasons. “[St. Francis] is good at sitting back and anticipating.”
A key factor in the championship tilt actually didn’t come from either sideline — a fierce wind played havoc with balls in the air and made it all but impossible for either squad to settle into a rhythm on offense. That, of course, played right into the Terriers’ defensive hands and left Long Island University’s front line frustrated.
“The environment’s certainly difficult, you could see several times when the wind blew the ball backwards,” Kostecky said. “As a player you have to anticipate that — though I’m not sure how you know where the wind will blow.”
The Terriers have waited all season for another shot at Long Island University, but the squad knows there’s still more work to be done. Playoff soccer is a brand-new challenge, but St. Francis is nothing short of confident heading into the tournament.
“We waited a whole year for this game,” said St. Francis senior Sal Barone, who faced off against his younger brother Joey in the matchup. “Now that we won, it feels very good. We’re looking forward to working hard this week and going to the playoffs.”
St. Francis is anxious to defend its home turf throughout the Northeast Conference tournament, determined to lock in on defense and keep building up that wall in front of the net. Now that the Terriers know what it’s like to be on top, the squad isn’t looking to relinquish that position without a fight.
“We don’t really care about scoring six or seven goals,” Falanga said. “We haven’t conceded a goal in [league play] yet. Our main objective is defense first and that’s our plan going forward.”
©2016 Community News Group
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