Wait well worth it for LIU soccer squad
Blackbirds edge SFC Brooklyn in NEC Championship rematch
Head men’s soccer coach TJ Kostecky and his LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds waited nearly 11 months for a measure of revenge against their archrivals from Remsen Street.
They got it on Sunday afternoon, in the form of a thrilling overtime victory at Brooklyn Bridge Park, pulling out a 2-1 triumph over reigning two-time Northeast Conference champion St. Francis Brooklyn, on senior Rasmus Hansen’s golden goal in the 93rd minute.
“We were very happy to come away from Sunday’s game with a [winning] result,” Kostecky told the Brooklyn Eagle following his club’s fifth consecutive victory and first against the Terriers since knocking them off in the NEC semifinals on the way to a conference crown back in 2015.
“Our team has worked hard over the last year to create a good memory against a solid, tough [SFC Brooklyn] team.”
The Blackbirds (6-3-1, 1-0 NEC) were drubbed 5-0 by the Terriers (4-7, 1-1) last Nov. 12 at BPP in the title game, foiling their chances to win a second NEC crown in three seasons and forcing them to watch SFC celebrate its fourth title in five years before going on to the NCAA Tournament.
Kostecky’s crew didn’t have to wait very long to get on the board Sunday, as junior Giuseppe Barone, a Brooklyn native and Xaverian High School alum, drove a corner kick to the far-left post in the 15th minute to set up freshman Huib Achterkamp’s header for the game’s opening score.
The Terriers grinded it out thereafter, despite losing Marco Torriani to a red card in the 59th minute.
Playing a man down, they kept the contest close before last year’s NEC Tournament Most Valuable Player Ali Tounkara deked several Blackbird defenders and slipped one past LIU goalie Sam Ilin of Brooklyn’s Midwood High School for the equalizer in the 79th minute.
“LIU is a very good team,” SFC head coach Tom Giovatto noted. “They are very skillful. I thought we came out very strong to start the game and had a couple of chances to get on the board. Unfortunately, we didn’t [score] and we paid for it.
“After we got the red card, the boys really came together and played a great second half,” he added. “I was very proud [of] how the team fought back and tied the game with a man down.”
Though they did their best to at least pull out a draw, the short-handed Terriers’ hopes of building on Friday’s 1-0 blanking of visiting Central Connecticut State in their NEC opener were dashed when Hansen one-touched a cross from senior defender Filip Nordstrom past SFC goalie Andra Lubbia for the game sealer.
“Unfortunately, in OT we made another bad mistake and it cost us the game,” lamented Giovatto, whose team will try to get back on its customary championship path in Sunday’s NEC road contest at Robert Morris in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
Hansen, the 2017 NEC Player of the Year, and his teammates got to celebrate while the Terriers watched for a change.
The Blackbirds are now in position to usurp the Terriers as the top team in the conference after finishing just behind SFC in the Preseason NEC Coaches’ Poll.
They will open a three-game homestand Friday evening at LIU Field, hoping to remain unbeaten since a 2-1 setback at San Diego State on Sept. 7.
But Kostecky remains steadfast that the Blackbirds must focus on their next contest, rather than get caught up in their ongoing hot streak and the big victory over their neighborhood rivals.
“Our focus remains the same … one game at a time,” he emphasized.
This annual Battle for Brooklyn game is normally reserved for the regular season finale, but it was pushed up to the first week of NEC play this year, a scheduling quirk that didn’t have any impact on the result, according to Giovatto.
“Playing the game the first week of the season was a little different,” he noted. “But everyone on both sides knew about it for a year, so everyone was ready for a big rivalry game.”
And they certainly got one.
Now, both sides must continue to pile up conference wins if they hope to reach an even more important rematch in next month’s NEC Tournament.
LIU Brooklyn senior Viktoria Fink was named NEC Co-Player of the Week and Blackbirds junior Natalia Rivera received Defensive Player of the Week honors after the duo lifted the defending two-time NEC champs to four-set victories over Bryant and CCSU this past weekend.
Fink led LIU in kills and registered a stellar 4.38 kills per set and a .310 hitting percentage en route to her fifth career Player of the Week award.
Rivera averaged 7.75 digs per set in the two wins and ranks first in the conference and 23rd in the entire NCAA with a 5.35 DPS average this year.
The Blackbirds, who improved to a perfect 4-0 in conference action, will resume NEC play Friday at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., before visiting Robert Morris in Moon Township on Saturday.
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