Blackbirds soccer soars to top of NEC Standings
Coach Kostecky’s Upstart Crew Remains Unbeaten in League Play
LIU Brooklyn men’s soccer head coach TJ Kostecky likens the evolution of his Northeast Conference-leading team’s development to that of a good meal.
“You get all these ingredients and you prepare this meal, and now it’s time to eat this meal,” Kostecky noted on his weekly roundup show after watching the surprising Blackbirds improve to a perfect 4-0 in conference play with a pair of impressive shutout victories over Robert Morris and St. Francis (Pa.) last week at Downtown’s LIU Field.
These Blackbirds (7-5-2 overall) entered the campaign as afterthoughts in the NEC race, especially with two-time reigning league champion St. Francis College just a few blocks away.
In fact, LIU was picked to finish seventh overall in the eight-team league when the preseason NEC coaches’ poll was released back in August.
While the Terriers spent the non-conference portion of their schedule piling up a 7-1-1 record, earning SFC a coveted national ranking, the Blackbirds struggled to a 2-5-2 mark, further cementing their status as also-rans on the local college soccer scene.
But something began to click, most notably the talents of freshman sensation Rasmus Hansen and senior goaltender Logan Keys, when LIU finished off its non-conference slate with a 1-0 home win over NJIT on Sept. 30.
The Blackbirds have since reeled off five consecutive victories, including their first four in the NEC for the first time since 1992, giving them a 1 1/2-game lead over SFC Brooklyn in the standings.
Hansen, who recently received his second NEC Rookie of the Week award, scored the winning tally, his team-high sixth of the year, on a 25-yard shot in overtime Sunday as the Blackbirds edged visiting SFU-Pa., 1-0, on Sunday.
“We knew Rasmus had the qualities, watching him play in Europe,” said Kostecky, who recruited Hansen out of Denmark. “He’s two-footed. He’s lethal with both the left and right foot, which is unique at any level. He can find goals for you at key times. That really elevates everybody’s level.”
The first-year midfielder was denied on five shots during last Friday’s 1-0 win over Robert Morris in Brooklyn, but senior Nahuel Medina stepped up to provide the offense by slamming home a rebound off a shot from freshman Simon Hestnes in the 73rd minute.
Keys has been brilliant thus far as the Blackbirds’ last line of defense, posting a 7-0-1 record while blanking three straight opponents to give him five shutouts on the year.
The recent stinginess between the pipes earned Keys the NEC Player of the Week award, and puts him in line to challenge SFC’s Jack Binks as the league’s top netminder this season.
With both local soccer squads vying for the conference crown, Nov. 8 should be a date to be circled for any local fan.
That’s when the Blackbirds and Terriers will wage battle at LIU Field in a game that may determine the top seed in next month’s NEC Tournament, which the Terriers have won via an overtime tally in each of the previous two years.
But Kostecky knows his squad must remain focused on the task at hand, beginning with this weekend’s visit to Central Connecticut State.
“Looking forward to Sunday and seeing how we respond to the next challenge,” he said.
While the Blackbirds have soared to the top of the league standings, the Terriers (9-2-3 overall, 2-1-1 NEC) are trying to recover from a stunning 1-0 double-overtime home loss to visiting Robert Morris last Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
SFC outshot RMU, 19-8, but Binks was unable to stop Colonials forward Neco Brett’s breakaway goal with just two minutes remaining, leaving the Terriers to lament a missed opportunity on a point-blank look by senior midfielder Harry Odell earlier in overtime.
SFC will host Sacred Heart on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., as it looks to improve to 7-1-1 at home, and, for a change, keep pace with the first-place Blackbirds.
St. Francis College’s women’s tennis team participated in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Central Park last Sunday.
“Today was a great experience for us to show our support in honoring breast cancer survivors and raising awareness,” said senior captain Rebecca Mares.
“It was a wonderful feeling to walk among many survivors and devote our time and support to this cause.”
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