With Big East play beginning to heat up, the St. John’s men’s soccer team has been cooling off opposing offenses.
Comparing the last two seasons for the St. John’s Red Storm, the Johnnies have already matched their total number of conference wins from last year and are one win shy of matching their overall number of wins from 2016. The improvement raises the question of what has changed for head coach Dave Masur and his team in his 27th season with the school. While some things have changed, St. John’s’ stellar defense, goalkeeping and physicality have remained a constant.
A physical team, St. John’s was second only to Seton Hall last year in fouls per game with 11.35. So far this season, the Red Storm have ramped up the intensity with a conference leading 16.44 fouls per game, two more fouls per game than its runners-up in the category, Seton Hall for a second straight year. It only made sense that when these two teams opened up conference play against one another on Sept. 16 that the game was an intense, physical contest. The Red Storm came out on top, 1-0, in a match that saw a total of 47 fouls called and 11 cards handed out.
Teams cannot win if they do not score, but teams cannot score if they do not get shots on net. In the Johnnies’ second conference game against Xavier, the Musketeers were only able to get three shots off in what was a 3-0 win for St. John’s in their Big East home opener. That type of domination makes for an easy day at the office for goalkeeper Andrew Withers, who has played his part in St. John’s stout defense, even if some days require less work for the junior than others.
In just five games last year, Withers posted a .750 save percentage, while giving up an average 1.35 goals per game and posting one shutout. In his first eight games this season, Withers has been even better with a high .844 save percentage; his five shutouts through eight games gives him 0.54 goals against average, a dominant figure.
Perhaps the most shocking part of St. John’s’ early season success compared to last year is that it has remained near the bottom in many of the conference’s offensive categories. An interesting change from last season is that the Red Storm dropped from second in shots per game at 15.59 per contest, to now dead last in the conference with 11.80 per game this year. This drop in shots alongside an improvement in record can be chalked up to the team taking smarter shots than last season and scoring on fewer opportunities.
Over the course of its first eight games, St. John’s men’s has shown that it has strengthened its already stellar defense while making slight improvements in offensive efficiency, all to swing more games in its favor. There are still a lot of conference games to be played, but the Red Storm have to feel good with where they are at so far in 2017.
Nick Santoriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickSantoriello.