Coming off a record-setting year, the Loyola men’s soccer team’s defense is looking to continue its dominance in the MVC.
After a 1-2-1 start to the 2015 season in which the Ramblers only gave up four goals, the new defense — made up of redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Chekadanov, first-year Marius Kullman, senior Kirill Likhovid, senior Matthieu Braem and redshirt sophomore Grant Stoneman — has allowed just two goals in the team’s 3-0-0 start to the year.
Head coach Neil Jones said he has uncovered the learning curve with the new starters, who he believes are adjusting well to playing together. The Ramblers won 3-2 in overtime against Valparaiso University on Aug. 27, after giving up two goals late in the game. Jones said the team is learning to make adjustments as it prepares for MVC play.
“They’re all willing to learn from each other and grow together as a new group,” said Jones. “There’s going to be bumps in the road. There were a couple bumps [against Valparaiso] when we gave up two late goals, but those are all learning experiences. They have to come together and improve as the season goes on.”
Loyola has not conceded a goal since the 86th minute of the match against Valparaiso. The last 13 minutes of the Valparaiso game, plus the games against Northern Kentucky University and the University at Albany add up to 193 straight minutes of shutout soccer.
Against Northern Kentucky and Albany, the Ramblers didn’t allow a single shot on goal by the Norse in the 1-0 victory and held the Great Danes to just one shot on goal in the 3-0 shutout.
Two-time Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Dobrowolski and a veteran back line of Eric Schoendorf, Daniel Hare and Jacob Thoreson led the team’s defense in 2015. The only returning starter of the back four is Likhovid.
Likhovid, who has stepped into a leadership role, said the new defenders are receptive to his advice about being vocal on the field.
With three new starters in the back line, Jones said he isn’t concerned with the transition to a new goalie.
“Having a new goalkeeper really didn’t change because none of the three players played with Tim,” Jones said. “The two center backs and the left back [are] new, so it’s kind of good in a way. They’re all willing to learn from each other and grow together as a new group.”
Chekandov started his first game this season after arriving at Loyola in the fall of 2013. He redshirted his freshman year and now has two years of eligibility remaining. Chekandov, Barkei and redshirt freshman Adem Dzanaovic trained and learned from Dobrowlski while he was at Loyola before he graduated and signed a professional contract in June.
Jones said he believes all three goalies are prepared to step into Dobrowlski’s role.
“They all have seen Tim for an extended period of time and they trained with him for one, two or three years,” said Jones. “So, they know how hard you have to work to achieve the success that he did and the little things that you need to take care of on and off the field to be successful like he was.”
Although there are a number of new pieces to the defense, the midfield is a veteran group highlighted by redshirt senior Ryan Howe, juniors Brody Kraussel and Kyle Thomson and first-year Aidan Megally. Jones said the team knows that all 11 players are expected to defend regardless of their position.
The Ramblers’ back line will be tested next when the team competes at the Northern Illinois Adidas Invitational in Dekalb, Illinois, Sept. 9-11.