After it debuted at No. 18 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA) Top 25 Poll, the Loyola men’s soccer team (6-0-0, 1-0-0) has remained unblemished in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play this season.
While the Ramblers are known for their strong defense, their offense has taken a new form this year. Junior forward Elliot Collier said the team is a lot more clinical and efficient offensively.
Last season, Loyola only scored 19 goals in 19 games. With just six games under their belt this season, the Ramblers have already scored an impressive 14 goals. Collier said that the team lacked scorers last year, and the change in offense will help the team reach greater heights.
In their game against Binghamton University on Sept. 11, the Ramblers scored three goals in less than two minutes. That was Collier’s first game back this season after missing three games due to severe dehydration, according to Loyola’s Athletic Department, and head coach Neil Jones said Collier provided needed energy off the bench. He scored two goals in the game.
“We have a lot of guys in the attack that can take advantage of small moments in games [like Binghamton] and make things happen and make plays,” Walker said.
While the team’s success is exciting, the season has only just begun. The Ramblers opened MVC play against Drake University on Sept. 17, and Jones said he wishes to build on the Ramblers’ perfect start.
“[It’s important to keep] the guys understanding that every single game matters,” said Jones. “The next game is the most important game of the season, every game.”
Collier said the conference opener against Drake was a big test for Loyola, and he was right. The Bulldogs had a home field advantage, and Loyola had lost all four games it had played against Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, in the past seasons. That was until the Ramblers topped the Bulldogs 1-0 to open this season’s MVC schedule.
Confidence was key for Loyola in this game. With the new national ranking next to Loyola’s name, Walker said he anticipated Drake would come out stronger and more fired up. Redshirt sophomore Grant Stoneman, who the MVC named the Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the third consecutive week on Sept. 19, scored the Ramblers’ only goal off his one attempt to propel Loyola past the Bulldogs. Redshirt junior Andrew Chekadanov had two saves in the game and recorded his fifth consecutive shutout.
Walker said last season’s loss to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in the MVC semifinals is always in the back of the returning players’ minds. Jones said playing against SIUE is a great battle because the teams are familiar with one another.
Loyola plays both Drake and SIUE twice this year due to changes in the MVC schedule. Walker anticipates all four games to be hard-fought.
“Not only do we control our own destiny, but we do it by playing two of the best teams in the MVC,” said Walker. “It will be great to play Drake and SIUE twice, especially after the two close games we had against them last year.”
As the season continues, Jones remains focused on preparing his players physically and mentally for each game.
“We have to improve. We need to keep getting better. We tell our guys that we want to get 1 percent better every day,” said Jones. “It’s where you’re ranked in November and December that really matters — not really [what you’re ranked in] September. So, while it’s nice to be ranked now, we know what really matters lies ahead of us.”
The Ramblers take on SIUE on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Loyola Soccer Park.