February 8, 2012 – Are the Johnnies facing a rebuilding year in 2012 or are they championship contenders?
Looking back at St. John’s performance in 2011, there isn’t much to build on after a season in which they won the Big East Championship. So what do the Johnnies have to do this year to regain top status and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?
The Red Storm is losing a solid group of seniors including their standout senior center back, Connor Lade, who is a current member of the New York Red Bulls. Along with Lade, SJU has also lost three of their starting four defenders. The Coach Masur led “Johnnies” are notorious for carrying a frequently exceptional backline. This will put a lot of pressure on defender Tim Parker who was a 2011 Big East First-Team All-Freshman team selection and a College Soccer News Third Team All-Freshman team member. Parker played out of position this past year at outside back, but the 6’2” “beast” should assume his natural position at the center of the defense in 2012.
This past year’s defense was impressive during the course of the year, especially during a span that included a seven game shutout streak. Another important piece to the puzzle is redshirt junior, Rafael Diaz. The dynamic keeper dislocated his shoulder in a tough 4-2 battle against Big East rival, DePaul. This unfortunate injury forced Diaz to miss the remainder of the season and redshirt junior goalie, Alex Naples, took his place. The biggest question should be whether or not “Rafi” will come back one hundred percent and dominate the cage like he did during the onset of the season.
Now, examining the St. John’s midfield, there a plethora of talent and little work to do. The only major loss St. John’s will suffer is Big East co-midfielder of the year, Pablo Battuto Punyed. Punyed, the (Sporting Kansas City) draftee, had a cultured left foot and despite his lack of athleticism, controlled the middle of the park for the squad. SJU can go multiple ways to replace the maestro. One solution is junior Jamie Thomas, a small physical option, who will no doubt get the job done. Another option is Nick Matthews, a quick redshirt sophomore, who provided be a much-needed spark off the bench last year. Matthews, the FC Delco prospect, could become an instant starter for the Red Storm after a promising 2011 season.
A playmaker for this squad could be senior Jack Bennett. Bennett, a junior college transfer, contributed six goals and six assists last year, including the Big East tourney game winning goal in overtime against rival Connecticut. The lefty played on the left side of the pitch last season, but with the departure of Punyed, Bennett will most likely pinch into an attacking midfield position. Another important factor in the midfield is redshirt junior, Jimmy Mulligan. “Jimbo” is a natural midfielder, but with the lack of forwards last year, he was forced to be a #10 role behind the striker for much of the season. In 2012, Mulligan should be expected to assume his natural position in the midfield and be a constant attacking threat. Another hit or miss prospect is 5’6” midfielder, Cody Albrecht. Albrecht, a redshirt freshman, missed the entire 2011 season due to an ACL tear, but the DC United Academy prospect was a highly touted recruit coming into the year and should be a player to watch in 2012.
St. John’s biggest challenge last year was scoring goals. The team only scored thirty-two goals in twenty-three games (1.39 goals per game) during the 2011 campaign. The Red Storm will be without forward Walter Hines (6g, 1a) due to graduation. Hines, a 2011 Third Team All-Best East selection, stretched the field with his pace and had a knack for coming up with big goals for the Johnnies. The 5’7” forward was picked up by FC Dallas in the MLS supplementary draft and will be thoroughly missed.
A player who could have a breakout year for St. John’s is junior, Andres Vargas. The Venezuelan forward is a quick physical talent who suffered a preseason injury, which plagued him during the 2011 season. The upcoming 2012 campaign should provide the 5’6” striker with plenty of playing time, as there isn’t a clear-cut favorite forward player. The Johnnies are already low on forwards and they may have to resort to inexperienced players or incoming freshmen.
Coach Masur is a recruiting legend who has frequently utilized the transfer route in the past as a means to help plug immediate gaps. St. John’s has not yet formally announced their entire 2012 recruiting class. Therefore, there may be some unknown junior college transfers coming on board who will make an immediate impact. However, based on available information it appears that the Red Storm will bring on board a fairly solid recruiting class that includes Sean Sepe, Brando Savino and Jelani Williams.
Sepe is a forward out of the Commack Soccer Club with loads of talent. Sepe may be able to earn some playing time as a freshman due to the lack of returning forwards. Savino and Williams are two very technical players from PDA in New Jersey.
Williams is quick and can play up top or on the wings. Savino, a midfielder out of Seton Hall Prep, is more of a central midfielder but can play on the wings if necessary.
This year’s squad should have aspirations to make the NCAA Tournament for the 19th time in the last 22 years and make it a few rounds deep. In the words of UCONN head coach Ray Reid, “The Big East tournament is Masur’s and we’re just invited.” St John’s consistently dominates the Big East Tourney by proof of their nine Big East tournament titles under Masur. With that said, the Big East isn’t easy by any means and the Red Storm will need to have a few balls bounce their way.
St. John’s will enter the 2012 season with a fresh squad and some raw talent. This is a team that should be eager to make an impact and show the rest of the country what they’re capable of accomplishing.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on twitter at benrothpda16