Seven games into the season, the Loyola men’s soccer team hasn’t had the start it would have wanted. The team is 4-4 overall and has already been shutout this season as many times as it was last season.
The team had its best season in program history in 2016, winning 14 games of the regular season and winning a NCAA tournament game for the first time. The Ramblers came into the 2017 season expecting to build off that success, hoping to get past the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Ramblers lost valuable, experienced players to graduation, but it’s time to move on from last year and focus on the present, according to head coach Neil Jones.
“We graduated good players. Not only good players but experienced players,” Jones said. “It’s not even about last year, I’m done with that and we’re sick of talking about it.”
The team is eight games through a 17-game regular season. If there’s going to be a steep learning curve, it’s better that it happens before the end of the season, according to Jones.
“We’ve got 10 freshmen out of 25 players, we’re trying to figure out who to play where. We just want to see what our guys have, we want to throw the guys into the fire and see what they’re made of,” Jones said. “It’s a long season, it’s a process, it’s a learning process and we’d rather make bad mistakes now when it doesn’t matter as much because the season isn’t on the line.”
Jones and the Ramblers are stealing a line from the Philadelphia 76ers and “trusting the process.” For any college sport, there’s a learning curve at the beginning of the season; every team in every sport loses players to graduation and the team has to adapt, Jones said.
“We’re enjoying the process with this young team. This is a good group of guys and that’s the beauty of college coaching,” Jones said. “In any sport you get a new team every year, you literally have to hit the reset button every year and say ‘What have we got? Where are we strong? Where can we improve?’ It’s challenging us as coaches, which is great.”
Jones said he’s enjoying the task the 2017 team is presenting. He said last year the team practically coached itself and this year it’s giving him an opportunity to focus on coaching players individually.
“Last year, to be honest, we didn’t really have to coach, we would put the team out on the field and they were running on autopilot. This year, we’re being forced to coach more and it’s challenging us as coaches,” Jones said. “It’s challenging the players to think about the game more, where they can influence the game and help the team. It’s been a fun process so far, obviously we’d like to have a better record, but we know that what the season is going to come down to is the MVC conference tournament in November. That’s what we’re working toward.”
Last season, through eight games the Ramblers had scored 15 goals. This season over the same amount of time, the Ramblers have scored eight goals. The team isn’t generating enough scoring opportunities, according to senior midfielder Kyle Thomson.
“Part of that is the ball not rolling our way. We have not created enough chances to warrant scoring more goals,” Thomson said.
The coaching staff and the team are tinkering with lineups and strategies to try to find something that works. The main problem is that the offense is predictable, according to Thomson.
“Teams are starting to learn what we’re trying to do and we need to change it up,” Thomson said.
To fix its predictability problem, Thomson said the team needs to attack from all parts of the field, rather than continuing to force the offense the way they’ve done in the past.
“We’re just trying to be a bit more dynamic in the attack and be able to attack with all our players,” Thomson said. “[We need] more energy in different positions and more guys stepping up. We’re scoring the same type of goals and we need goals from all parts of the field.”
The Ramblers will continue to trust the process on Sept. 30 against the University of Central Arkansas at 7 p.m. at Loyola Soccer Park.