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November 16, 2015
LIU Brooklyn men win NEC title in a shootout, 1st time since 2004; earns NCAA berth

By Michael Randazzo Editor

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- With a 3-1 shootout decision over Saint Francis University (Pa.) Sunday afternoon on it home field, LIU Brooklyn captured the Northeast Conference men’s title and earned a berth in the NCAA Division I tournament. The teams had played to a 2-2 draw in regulation and extratime.

Goalkeeper Logan Keys, named tournament MVP, came up big, stopping two shots in the shootout to lead his team to an undefeated record in conference play and a fifth NEC title, LIU’s first since 2004.

Keys was at the center of the action this weekend, first shutting down rival St. Francis Brooklyn in Friday’s semifinal and then topping a Saint Francis squad that advanced to NEC finals in back-to-back seasons.

LIU head coach TJ Kostecky, in his 17th season, marveled about his keeper’s abundance of confidence, particularly when his team needed him most.

“He [Keys] has a high level of belief,” said Kostecky, who added that Key told him, ‘I’m going to make the saves.’ And he did.”

Riding an 11-game unbeaten streak, the top-seeded Blackbirds (11-5-4; 7-0) were hosts in the NEC final to the second -seeded Red Flash (11-5-4; 5-2), whom they had beaten 1-0 in overtime earlier in the season.

Playing aggressively in the first-ever NEC soccer final on LIU Field, the Blackbirds dominated for much of the first half, forcing Red Flash goalie Marcus Rojas to make a number of difficult stops.

However an LIU defensive breakdown in its half of the field in the 28th minute proved costly. Saint Francis senior Conner Rezende picked off a stray pass from LIU’s Tanner Sica, moved inside the box and whistled a shot past Keys to put the Red Flash up 1-0.

The Blackbirds did not wilt despite the deficit. At the 37-minute mark freshman Simen Hestnes rocketed a shot from 25 yards just over the SFU goal. Two minutes later freshman Rasmus Hansen, selected to the All-Tournament squad, sent a low shot from just inside the box that Rojas batted harmlessly away.

When LIU came out for the second half, Kostecky was confident in his squad.

“At halftime we talked about the fact that we’re the better side… so don’t change anything,” he said about adjustments after intermission. “What we have to do is get a goal the first 15 minutes of the second half.

“We get a goal [and] we’re gonna win this game.”

At the 59-minute mark, Kostecky's players made a prophet out of their coach. Fifth-year senior Tyler Draovitch lofted a long pass to senior co-captain Jacob Smith, who placed a perfect centering pass on Romario Guscott’s foot. The redshirt freshman from Jamaica drilled a shot past Rojas to tie the game at one.

With the pro-LIU crowd roaring, the Blackbirds pressed their advantage. Sica, a senior co-captain, and Hansen alternately probed the SFU defense anchored by Francis de Vries, two-time NEC defender of the year. The Blackbirds’ diligence paid off in the 75th-minute as freshman Filip Nordstrom passed to Hansen in front, who beat the Red Flash keeper for a 2-1 LIU lead.

The Blackbirds had less than a minute to savor their lead. On a free kick from 30 yards to the left of the LIU goal, SFU’s de Vries passed up a shot on net, instead craftily passing the ball to Rezende at the top of the box. The Red Flash midfielder threaded a shot through a crowd of defenders, including Keys, to deadlock the match at 2-2.

At the 80-minute mark the Blackbirds were handed a golden opportunity. Senior Nahuel Medina was mauled in front of the St. Francis goal, earning LIU a penalty kick. Hansen, who led the team this season with eight goals, had a chance to deliver a win. Instead his kick clanged off the right post, maintaining the tie, which is how the score stayed until regulation time expired.

Despite the allure of a golden goal finish, both teams played cautiously in the first overtime. As the period ended, LIU’s Guscott inexplicably drew a red card for an excessive foul, leaving the home team a man down in overtime for the second consecutive game.

But Keys was up to the challenge. Four minutes into the second overtime the LIU goalie stopped a drive from the top of the box, then made a stop two minutes later off a Saint Francis free kick. At the eight-minute mark he smothered a shot from just inside the box, propelling his team to a second straight shoot out.

Which is where the redshirt junior from Pennsylvania shined brightest. After LIU and SFU each converted penalty kicks, Nordstrom put the Blackbirds ahead 2-1. Saint Francis’s Rezende tried to find the back of the net for a third time but was stopped by Keys. Sica put the home team up by 3-1, then Keys again denied the Red Flash. After a Rojas a stop, Logan stared down senior Andrew Hajec, Saint Francis’s last hope, who missed the net, sealing the Blackbirds’ win

In the midst of celebratory bedlam, the longest tenured coach in LIU program history spoke about his team’s resiliency throughout the championship weekend.

“You saw it this weekend, how they persevered being down a man twice,” Kostecky said.

“To come back and create this kind of energy is remarkable. It’s a testament to how much they believe in themselves and this team.”

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