St. Francis wins Battle of Brooklyn over LIU, earns first outright NEC regular-season title since 1997
SFC Finishes Season Undefeated, Hasn’t Conceded a Goal in 681 Minutes
There was a lot on the line at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5 on Sunday for the final Northeast Conference (NEC) men’s regular season soccer game between the St. Francis College (SFC) Terriers (10-4-3, 6-0-1 NEC) and the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (10-5-2, 4-2-1 NEC).
Fans filled the bleachers on a beautiful 50-degree afternoon for a winner-take-all game between the two Brooklyn rivals. At stake was the regular season crown and the right to host the NEC Tournament.
SFC narrowly triumphed 1-0 in a hard-fought Battle of Brooklyn. With the win, SFC earned its first outright regular-season title since 1997 and will now host the NEC Tournament.
“It’s a great accomplishment winning the regular season championship,” SFC head coach Tom Giovatto told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It hasn’t been done in a long time, so it’s great for the kids, school, fans, the alumni. It’s a really nice day.”
It was a one-sided affair for much of the match, with SFC controlling the pace and out-possessing the Blackbirds. In fact, LIU didn’t record its first shot of the match until the 36th minute. LIU did, however, create some chances down the stretch, but the Downtown Brooklyn school was unable to find the back of the net.
The game’s only breakthrough came in the 27th minute when SFC senior Yussuf Olajide tucked home a pass from junior Dominick Falanga.
Falanga made a probing run down the left side of the pitch, slipped in a pass to Olajide from the corner of the 18-yard-box and a sliding Olajide calmly tucked home his NEC-leading fifth game-winner and sixth overall goal with a one-touch finish to the far post past Blackbirds’ keeper Logan Keys.
“That play was really, really important for us,” Olajide said after the game. “We just had to play defense and the goal was going to come. The defense is playing really good, not only them, but everybody on the team. The guys on the bench have been helping out, giving directions; we’ve been doing a great job on the season and this is like a reward. We do everything we have to as a team.”
With the win, the Terriers finished the regular season undefeated and the team now has not conceded a goal in 681 minutes.
Keeping a clean sheet against LIU was particularly impressive given the fact that LIU leads the league with 39 goals. The Blackbirds have 14 more tallies than the next team.
“We’re just really working hard,” Giovatto said about his strong defense. “We’re really concentrating on that and it’s not just the back four. The back four and the goalkeeper are doing a great job but we’re doing it as a unit. It’s all 11 players. Everybody is buying into it and we want to keep the streak going.”
Moving forward, No. 1-seeded SFC will host No. 4-seeded Sacred Heart (5-10-2, 3-4 NEC) on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5.
“We play really well at home, so we’re happy to be hosting,” Giovatto told the Eagle. “We feel really comfortable here, so hopefully that will give us a little bit of an advantage this weekend.”
“It’s part of our culture,” Olajide added. “We don’t lose at home, so we’re excited to be able to host.”
No. 2 Saint Francis University (11-5-2, 4-1-2 NEC) will play No. 3 LIU on Friday at noon at Pier 5.
The winners of the two semi-final matchups will compete for the NEC championship on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The NEC’s two Brooklyn schools have combined to win the last three league crowns. SFC won the championship in 2013 and 2014, and LIU is the defending champion. The winner of the NEC tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
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