Against an opponent making the cross-country trip from sunny California, the Red Storm used the home field advantage of Belson Stadium the way it has all season -– by posting yet another victory.
St. John’s (18-2-3) rode two late goals to a rally for a 3-2 victory over UC-Irvine (15-2-6) in a third-round NCAA tournament matchup to improve to a perfect 11-0-0 at home this season.
The Red Storm, the tournament’s 3rd overall seed, and the Anteaters, the 14th overall seed, took a similar path to their third-round meeting, with each receiving opening-round byes before posting second-round shutout victories at home, when St. John’s defeated Boston University, 1-0 and UC-Irvine beat Cal-Poly, 3-0.
On Saturday, UC-Irvine grabbed an early 1-0 lead on a header by Amani Walker 13:05 into the contest, but Swedish junior defenseman Joel Gustafsson provided a first-half equalizer on a header 29:49 into the opening half after a centering pass into the box by fellow Scandinavian, Norwegian, sophomore midfielder Sverre Wegge Gundhus.
In the second half, exactly 78 minutes into the match, sophomore midfielder Trevor Chidiku (tied with junior midfielder Nelson Becerra for the team lead in goals with seven) gave St. John’s the lead for good, 2-1, heading in a rebound after UC-Irvine goalkeeper Andrew Fontein tipped a close-range shot by Gundhus.
Just 4:50 later, in the 83rd minute, it was Becerra who set up Gundhus with a centering pass from the left wing that Gundhus put home on a one-timer from twelve yards out, for a 3-1 Red Storm lead.
UC-Irvine quickly struck back just 94 seconds later, when Irving Garcia scored his seventh goal of the season to cut the St. John’s lead to 3-2 on a one-timer in the 85th minute off a forward pass into the box by Walker, but the Red Storm hung on the rest of the way for the win.
St. John’s trip to the national quarterfinals is its first since 2003 and its eleven home wins mark a new school record.
The Red Storm will look to extend their home win streak against Indiana (14-6-3), the 6th overall seed, at 5pm, at Belson Stadium, on Saturday, December 6th.
After receiving a first-round bye, the Hoosiers advanced to Saturday’s showdown with a pair of home wins, defeating St. Louis, 2-0 in Round 2 and beating Michigan, 3-0 in Round 3.
Saturday’s winner in Queens will advance to The College Cup, Men’s Soccer’s Final Four, in Frisco, Texas, on Friday evening, December 12th. Kickoff for the national championship game, also in Frisco, is set for 1pm EST, on Sunday, December 14th.
Both national semifinal games will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPNU. The national championship game can be seen on ESPN2.