Seventh Heaven for LIU soccer squad
Blackbirds Extend Unbeaten Streak, Clinch NEC Tourney Spot
Everything’s coming up sevens for the Northeast Conference-leading LIU-Brooklyn men’s soccer team, as in a season-high seven-game unbeaten streak and a team-high seven goals from freshman sensation Rasmus Hansen.
And none of it is a surprise to long-time Blackbirds coach TJ Kostecky, despite the fact that his team was picked to finish — you guessed it — seventh in the NEC preseason coaches’ poll.
“We have a really strong core of returning players, and I knew that our incoming players were really good as well,” Kostecky noted when asked by the Eagle Wednesday morning if he expected his team to rise as rapidly as it has.
“It was a matter of chemistry and learning to play together takes time,” added Kostecky, who is in his 17th year at the helm of the program and chasing his first NEC title and NCAA Tournament berth since 2004. “When you start five or six freshmen, you’re not going to automatically jell. We knew it would take some time, but we knew it would click.”
It kept clicking on Sunday in New Britain, Connecticut, as the Blackbirds got their latest goal from Hansen, a clear front-runner for NEC Rookie of the Year honors, en route to a 3-0 victory over Central Connecticut State, securing LIU a spot in next month’s NEC Championship Tournament.
The Blackbirds have won six straight games overall, including a perfect 5-0 mark in conference play, and are 6-0-1 since a 3-1 loss at Saint Peter’s on Sept. 20.
Hansen, a native of Denmark, made sure LIU’s recent run of success continued.
The gifted first-year forward/midfielder missed wide on his first attempt of the game in the seventh minute, but tallied in the 15th off a centering pass from fellow freshman Filip Nordstrom, putting the Blackbirds ahead to stay.
“He’s very versatile in that he is extremely accurate and lethal with both feet when he shoots on goal,” Kostecky said of Hansen. “It’s an unusual quality for an attacking player to have. He’s a handful [for opponents to deal with].”
Senior Jacob Smith and sophomore Naeem Charles also scored for the Blackbirds, who have beaten their first five league opponents for the first time since 1992, seven years before Kostecky’s arrival.
Redshirt junior goaltender Logan Keys only had to make one save to secure LIU’s fourth consecutive shutout victory, improving his personal mark to 8-0-1 on the year with six clean sheets.
LIU (8-5-2 overall), which began the season as an afterthought on the Downtown college soccer scene behind two-time defending NEC champion St. Francis College, now finds itself with a 1 1/2-game lead over both the Terriers and Robert Morris (3-1-1 NEC) in the race for the top spot in the league.
The Blackbirds have three regular-season contests remaining, including what is shaping up as an epic clash with the Terriers at LIU Field on Nov. 8 in the regular-season finale for both squads.
But LIU can wrap up the No. 1 seed in the NEC Tournament with a win Friday at Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Connecticut.
“That’s the most important game,” Kostecky insisted, shrugging off the upcoming showdown with SFC. “The goal is to go there and get the result, and if we could do that we would host the NEC Tournament. That’s the objective right now.”
Over on Remsen Street, the Terriers (10-2-3) are also too busy preparing for Friday’s match at Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J., to worry about where they sit in the standings, as they are on the verge of wrapping up a berth in the four-team single-elimination tournament.
However, SFC coach Tom Giovatto, who has quietly built a Downtown powerhouse at the diminutive Franciscan school, gave a tip of the hat to his neighborhood rivals just before his team hit the field for Wednesday afternoon’s practice.
“They’re playing well. It’s great for them. It’s great for New York soccer,” Giovatto said of the Blackbirds.
“We’re not paying attention to it, we’re paying attention and focusing on us,” he added. “We have a game on Friday, I think a win would guarantee us in [the NEC Tournament], so we’re just focusing on Friday, it’s a tough game, FDU.”
The Terriers are coming off Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Sacred Heart at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Senior Sal Barone, a Brooklyn native and Xaverian High School alum, scored the game’s opening goal and senior midfielders Cyril Coisne and Vincent Bezecourt also tallied for SFC, which bounced back in fine fashion from last week’s stunning double-overtime home loss to RMU.
Red-shirt senior goalie Jack Binks stopped three shots for his eye-popping 11th shutout of the year, tying the single-season record held by Dragan Radovich (1978) and Mario Fava (1988).
SFC currently ranks first in the entire nation in shutout percentage (0.80), goals-against average (0.31) and save percentage (0.894).
Though the Blackbirds remain ahead of his dynastic team in the standings, Giovatto insists that he isn’t allowing players to concern themselves with the upcoming LIU tilt.
“We don’t have it circled yet,” he intimated. “This year we’re really trying to focus on one game at a time. The alumni always focus on that game.”
“We have an excellent friendly rivalry,” Kostecky added of his relationship with Giovatto. “There’s a mutual respect from the coaching staff, but it’s a respectful rivalry.”
Respectful, for now at least.
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