Men's Soccer

Home Sweet Home: Loyola Benefits From Soccer Field’s Unusual Layout

Nick SchultzThe Loyola men's soccer team ended its three-year home winning streak on Sept. 1 with a loss to Valparaiso University.

Home-field advantage can be a game-changer in soccer. The Loyola men’s soccer team (3-3, 0-2) has had much success at Hoyne Field over the last three seasons.

The team won 28 home games straight before falling to Valparaiso University 2-1 on Sept. 1. Prior to the loss, the last time Loyola lost at home was when it fell to the University of Evansville on Oct. 12, 2013.

The Loyola men’s and women’s soccer teams have played at Hoyne since 1996. Located just one mile west of Loyola at the intersection of Devon and Hoyne avenues, students can either take bus No. 155 there or make the walk to games.

Loyola set a new program record with 14 wins last season. Nine victories came at Hoyne, and the Ramblers held the opposing team scoreless in eight of them. The Loyola defense also held opposing teams to just 49 shots last season, compared to Loyola’s 130.

While home-field advantage helps, the way Hoyne is set up gives the Ramblers even more of an edge on opponents.

Head coach Neil Jones has been with the team since 2013 after spending three seasons as an assistant coach at Northwestern University. He said the setup of Hoyne is different than most fields he has seen: the bleachers are slightly off-centered, the locker rooms are located close to the sideline, the field is surrounded by apartments and the outfield of Loyola’s softball diamond bleeds onto the soccer field.

Because men’s soccer and softball are in different seasons, there are no conflicts with games.

“It’s a very, very unique setup, but it’s our set up,” Jones said. “It’s something that we love and I don’t think opponents enjoy.”

Jones also said the players don’t complain about the field, but see it as a way to gain an edge on teams they play against.

“We embrace Hoyne as our fortress [and] as our home,” Jones said. “Is it the best setup in Division I athletics or Division I soccer? No. But instead of [whining] and [moaning] about it, we embrace it and just love playing out there.”

Hoyne also gives Loyola an edge through its intimacy. Junior midfielder Ryan Walker said the way the bleachers are set up, primarily, makes it tough for other teams to focus.

“It feels kind of like everything is on top of you because … it’s not very spread out,” Walker said. “I think that is something that definitely helps us, as well.”

Prior to the 2016 season, FieldTurf was installed on Hoyne. The new turf is easier to maintain than grass fields and makes for a smoother surface. Senior forward Elliot Collier played two years on the grass at Hoyne and said the turf makes playing at home much easier.

“When I first came here, [the field condition] was terrible,” Collier said. “It kind of worked in our favor, though, because we knew how to play on … the ‘Hoyne Bubble,’ [as] we called it. Now … it plays so nicely.”

Collier also credited Loyola’s athletic department for the time and effort they put into getting Hoyne’s new look.

“I give props to the athletic department for all the time, money [and] effort they put into Hoyne, the soccer team, getting fans out there, the little events they do and the media,” Collier said. “There’s been a huge increase in support for the team since I’ve been here.”

The fact that the bleachers are so close means the fans can have an impact on the game. With everything being so tightly packed, the visiting team can get rattled by Loyola’s fanbase. Now in his third year with the team, Walker said he has seen a noticeable rise in attendance. In 2016, the attendance increased to 4,253 from 2,452 in 2015.

“Each year, I feel like we get more and more people out to games,” Walker said, “Which is a good thing, that we’re growing the fan base and getting more people to come support.”

The Ramblers are scheduled to play the University of Wisconsin Sept. 16 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Assistant Sports Editor