Freshman forward Jonas Bickus in a game against LIU on Aug. 26. Bickus scored his first career goal in the season opener. JOCELYN CRUZ/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook men’s soccer team pulled off a big-time upset win in its opening night performance at home versus the Long Island University (LIU) Sharks on Thursday, Aug. 26. Coming off of a very poor season, the Seawolves looked to set a higher standard and increase their expectations for this season, and they did not disappoint with a surprising 1-0 win on opening night.

“It’s always great to start the season with a win,” head coach Ryan Anatol said about starting the season off with a win after last year’s struggles in an interview with The Statesman.

Last season wasn’t just bad for Stony Brook, it was ugly. The offense was weak, the defense dull and it accumulated into a 1-6-1 (1-4-1 AE) record. They scored only 1.25 goals per game, while allowing almost double that on the other end of the field with 2.13 goals per game. On paper, that spelled trouble for the Seawolves, given their opponent.

LIU endured a much more successful 2020 season, and had little to prove against Stony Brook on Thursday night, or so it may have seemed. The Sharks outscored their opponents by an entire goal per game last year with 1.63 goals scored per game vs. .63 goals allowed per game and posted a 3-1-4 (3-1-3 NEC) record.

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However, that was all last season. It was a clean slate in a new season, and Stony Brook took full advantage of their blank canvas. 

It was a hard-fought match between the two teams. LIU’s defense was stingy in the first half, but Stony Brook’s was equal to the task. The game was scoreless at the half, with the most action coming on a pair of LIU yellow cards. Towards the end of the first half, the Seawolves’ only freshman starter, forward Jonas Bickus, picked up his first career yellow card. It would not be the last time we heard from Bickus during his debut performance.

Stony Brook’s defense forced seven missed shots in the first half, but their offense got nothing going, not even attempting a shot before halftime. Anatol believed that the offense in the first half was impatient. 

“We didn’t make enough passes and we gave them the ball back too much,” he said.

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One player who caught the eyes of many in the first half was junior forward Kameron Blaise, who made several highlight-reel crossovers off the bench and electrified Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, along with the Seawolves’ sideline. Anatol commented on Blaise postgame, calling him “electric and dangerous,” and said that “he keeps defenders on their heels.” Blaise was left in to start the second half, and did more of the same. Still, Stony Brook could not capitalize on his exciting plays, and the game remained scoreless for much of the second half as well.

However, the approach for Stony Brook was clearly different. They moved the ball much better, connecting on several passes and they finally set themselves up for shot attempts. Blaise took Stony Brook’s first shot of the season, but missed wide right. They would take four shots and miss all of them, with only two being on goal. 

The Seawolves’ tough defense persisted in the second period, as they continued to keep LIU off of the scoreboard. The Sharks missed six more shots in the second half of the game and finished the night 0-for-13 from the field. 

With the strong play of the defense keeping them in it, Stony Brook’s offense needed to make a play. Regulation was winding down. Over 81 minutes went by with no scoring. Finally, with only 8:24 left on the clock, Bickus found paydirt and broke the ice, kicking one past LIU junior goalkeeper Demetri Skoumbakis and scoring the first goal of the night. It was a first of many, as it not only was the first goal of the game, as well as Stony Brook’s first goal of the year, but it was also Bickus’ first career goal in his first career game. It was also on his first career shot, to boot. 

With Stony Brook drawing first blood so late, the defense only had to pitch a shutout for eight more minutes and change; something they had already done for over 81 minutes and counting. As fate would have it, the Seawolves’ defense clutched up as it had all night. In the penultimate minute, the Seawolves caught a huge break, with back-to-back LIU shot attempts just bouncing off of the top bar and barely missing. 

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Stony Brook held on by that score and upset LIU, 1-0.

“I’m feeling excited, I feel happy, I can’t describe my feeling now,” Bickus said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “I can tell you why we won: because we work hard.” 

Anatol attributed the offense’s second-half improvement to how they pulled off the win. 

“We didn’t connect enough passes,” he said. “We talked about just getting on the ball a little bit more, having the confidence to connect passes, look to move the ball and I thought we did a much better job with that.” 

Stony Brook looks to improve to 2-0 on Monday, Aug. 30, as the Seawolves remain at LaValle Stadium to face the Hofstra Pride at 6 p.m.

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