Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's Athletic Communications
Third-seeded St. John's scored two goals in a wild final 15 minutes to defeat UC Irvine, 3-2, at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John's University to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday night. The Red Storm will play host to No. 6 Indiana, which defeated Michigan, 3-0, in the Elite Eight next Saturday at 5 p.m.
The winner advances to the College Cup at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Tex.
"It was a hard-fought win," said sophomore forward Sverre Wegge Gundhus, who scored a goal and set up two others for the Johnnies. "We made it hard for ourselves in the second half. Instead of sharing the ball, getting it wide and trying to get the passing game going…we weren't in right spots early, but somehow we got two very good goals on counters. I don't know how, but it was a great feeling to see the clock wind down."
St. John's (18-2-3), which leads the nation with a 0.35 goals against average, was uncharacteristically poor defensively, giving up two goals in a game for the first time since a 4-2 win against Syracuse on Oct. 8. That, more so than the win, was what was on the mind of central defender Joel Gustaffson, in the post-game press conference.
"I don't think we defended that well, to be honest," the junior from Sweden said. "We were out of position most of the game and we got countered on. I wasn't happy with our performance."
After Amani Walker headed in Irving Garcia's cross to put UC Irvine (15-2-6) in front, 1-0, in the 14th minute, Gustafsson equalized, heading in a perfect cross from Gundhus in the 30th minute.
The game remained tied until the 78th minute, when Trevor Chiduku, who missed Tuesday's second round game against Boston University with a pulled groin, headed in a rebound of a saved Gundhus shot at the far post.
"I just told myself to give it my all and jump as high as I could," said Chiduku, a 5-foot-7, 135-pound sophomore forward from Zimbabwe. "This is my first game in the NCAA (tournament) so it's a good feeling."
Less than five minutes later, Nelson Becerra played a perfect ball to Gundhus in front of goal and the Norwegian converted forward tapped in his thid goal of the year, and second in as many games.
It seemed the Red Storm had the insurance goal they needed, but 1:34 later the Anteaters got within a goal when Garcia blasted a first-time shot inside the far post from 16 yards out.
But the Red Storm held off the UC Irvine onslaught, held possession, pushed the ball into the corner and killed the game, moving to within one game of the College Cup.
"This is a good team, storied program, they play very good soccer," UC Irvine coach George Kuntz said of St. John's. "No question this is an outstanding team that deserves to have a crack at the Final Four. I hope they do. It will be good for us, make us feel a bit better."