By Patrick McCormack
The St. John’s University men’s soccer team lost several key players in the offseason, but the Red Storm are ready to face the challenges ahead with hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament.
“No matter what, there is always a new look,” St. John’s Coach Dave Masur said. “We have some great players coming back to help our team, and we have guys that have been here, so we have a lot of guys that know what it takes to be successful at the level we are trying to play at.”
The Red Storm lost five starters from a team that went 11-7-2 and 3-4-2 in the Big East. St. John’s has to make up for the absence of leading scorer Sean Sepe, who transferred to Akron, and graduated starting goalkeeper Rafael Diaz, from last year’s team, which lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Virginia. During the first couple weeks of practice, the team is trying to adjust to some of the new faces.
Some of the players hoping to fill in the gaps are freshman Andrew Mannon, who scored in the exhibition match against Drexel last weekend, and former Molloy standout Anthony Viteri, who also wants to help the hometown team.
In goals, freshmen Andrew Withers, Francisco Rojas and redshirt freshman Conor McElhinney will all be looking to fill in for Diaz.
“We’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well,” senior defender Tim Parker said. “It’s been good, there’s a lot of new faces, so we are all trying to get used to each other. From what I’ve seen, it’s pretty sharp.”
Along with getting used to playing with different teammates, the veterans are showing the new players what is expected when part of a program like St. John’s. The veterans setting an example on offense are senior midfielder Jimmy Mulligan, who was second on the team with four goals last year, and senior Daniel Herrera, who was third on the team with three goals. Parker, a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, and Jordan Rouse lead the defense.
St. John’s thinks it has enough to continue its tradition of reaching the big dance.
“I think the tournament is a goal that we have at the end of every year,” Parker said. “We have to teach the new guys that is an expectation, and once we get to the NCAA Tournament we have to take it game by game.”
During the season, the new-look Johnnies will be tested often. They play seven teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament during the 2013 season. It’s all part of building your résumé for the tournament selection committee.
“Teams that go to the tournament always have good schedules,” Parker said. “We try to make the best schedule that we can. I think those kind of games will help us and give us experience later on.”
Despite the new look on the field and the losses of key players after, a solid 2013 season, Masur and the Red Storm will use a challenging schedule and senior leadership to get the team where they want and expect to be.
“Goals are always to win every game, get the NCAA, win a Big East Championship, get the Final Four, and hopefully win a National Championship,” Masur said.