Jack Shearer is coming off a fine freshman season for St. John’s. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s SID)
QUEENS, N.Y – The 40th season of St. John’s University men’s soccer will kick Friday night as the Johnnies travel to the west coast for two matches against UC Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount.
Friday’s game against UC Santa Barbara is slated to begin at 10:30 p.m. ET and can be streamed on Big West TV. Fans can access Sunday’s tilt with the Lions, scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. ET, on Stadium TV.
For the first time in nearly a decade and a half, the Red Storm is making a trip to the Golden State. The last time the Johnnies played in California was in 2004, when they topped UCLA, 2-1, in the NCAA Division I Round of 16 to earn a spot in the quarterfinals. That triumph was one of just three games for St. John’s on the west coast. The Red Storm also faced off against Cal and Stanford in the 1998 California adidas/Foot Locker Classic in Berkeley.
Friday’s game will also mark the first time that St. John’s has played a season opener outside the Eastern Time Zone. The farthest west the Red Storm had ever traveled to kick off a campaign was Bloomington, Ind., three times (2001, 2009 and 2015).
Coaches by Dr. Dave Masur, the Johnnies will feature a new look this season, as 25 of the team’s 33 roster spots have been filled by players in their first season with the program.
Three newcomers come with Division I experience, as graduate student Ackim Mpofu played three seasons at Northeastern University, senior goalkeeper Lenny Wilson started for three years at Hartwick College and junior midfielder Niko Petridis finished second on the team in scoring at the University of Connecticut in 2017. Two juniors, Brandon Duarte and Kadeem Joseph, enjoyed standout junior college careers, while two sophomores, Tyron Matuta and Johan Aquilon, excelled in Europe with academy programs.
Signaling the start of a new era for the St. John’s men, 18 of the team’s 33 players are freshmen. The Red Storm has the highest total of rookies in the conference with Seton Hall sporting 12 and three other schools carrying 10.
Despite an abundance of fresh faces, the Red Storm returns three of its top five scorers from last year. Jack Shearer, a unanimous selection to the Big East All-Freshman Team in 2017, will look to build upon a campaign that saw him record three goals, two of which were game-winners, during conference action. Senior Filippo Ricupati found the back of the net four times for the Red Storm last year despite playing limited minutes due to injury. Junior forward Matt Forster tallied three goals and two assists while starting all 19 games.
Senior midfielder Benny Lafortune also started all 19 matches for the Johnnies in 2017, while Mauricio Rivas and Rafael Bustamante will look to carry over momentum from a season that saw them make significant contributions to a Red Storm squad that finished third in the Big East with a conference mark of 5-2-2.
Despite going 6-8-5 last season, the Gauchos were predicted to finish second in the Big West preseason poll, coming in two points behind league favorite Cal State Fullerton. Two Gauchos, Noah Billingsley and Rodney Michael, were tabbed by the league’s coaches. The 2017 Big West freshman of the year, Michael led the team as a rookie with eight goals and four assists for the fourth-highest scoring total in the conference. Billingsley earned his nod despite playing only five of the team’s 10 league contests, scoring twice.
St. John’s and UCSB have met twice. The Johnnies have claimed victory in both games, including a 2-1 win last September at Belson Stadium. The first meeting came in the 2003 NCAA Tournament as the Red Storm scored in the 106th minute to break a 2-2 tie and advance to the quarterfinals. The Johnnies made the program’s second appearance in the NCAA final.
Loyola Marymount finished last season at 4-12-2, including a 2-5-0 mark in conference action. The West Coast Conference’s coaches predicted a similar finish for the Lions, placing them in the seventh out of a possible eight spots in the league’s preseason poll. Loyola Marymount returns three multi-goal scorers as Francis Avoce, Rodrigo San Roman and Kris Fourcand all found the back of the net twice last season.
Sunday will mark the first meeting on the pitch between St. John’s and Loyola Marymount.