Currently sitting at 3-4-1 — including 0-0-1 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) action — the Loyola men’s soccer team has had a middling start to their 2018 campaign. However, a silver lining for the Ramblers has been their newfound consistency at the goalkeeper position.
After losing two former standouts at the position — Tim Dobrowolski in 2015 and Andrew Chekadanov in 2016 — Loyola struggled to fill the role during the 2016-17 season. The loss was felt after the two graduated and it wasn’t until this season they finally found relief.
New junior netminder Josh Lagudah from Canberra, Australia has captured the starting spot for the Ramblers so far this season. In six starts, he’s accumulated a 3-2-1 record, 17 saves and a 77.3 save percentage — including eight saves against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Sept. 15, earning him MVC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The recent reliability in goal has come after a 2017 season that saw regular inconsistency and poor play at the position, highlighted by head coach Neil Jones’ decision to change keepers midseason.
The decision left starter Aidan Aylward on the bench in favor of current sophomore Evan Konermann. Aylward chose to leave the program after the 2017 season ended, returning home to Ottawa, Canada.
“[Aylward] was the starter at the start of the year and we weren’t winning games,” Jones said. “We decided to change it up and gave [Konermann] a shot. He started pretty well and we got a couple results. We just felt like [Konermann] was slightly ahead of [Aylward],” Jones said.
Aylward’s departure opened the position to a competition among the team’s four goalkeepers — Lagudah, Konermann, redshirt freshman Jaylen Davila-Smith and first-year Simon Jillson — coming into the team’s 2018 spring and summer training — a position battle which ultimately led to Jones’ decision to choose Lagudah over the three other competitors before the 2018 season began. Jones said regardless of the certainty at the starting spot, having depth at the position can prove crucial.
“It’s a position that only one player can play, but you also need to have a bunch of guys,” Jones said. “Three is probably a minimum. If you look around every college team if you found any team with less than three. Some teams have five. Four is a pretty standard number. We need it for training.”
While also stressing the importance of quantity, Jones discussed the value of youth and why he’s been so aggressive in recruiting and improving the goalkeeper position.
“We need to develop younger goalies because it is a position that you improve with age,” Jones said. “Some of the best goalies in the world are 36-39 years old, so we are trying to get them as much experience as possible during their youth and their freshman years.”
Despite the increase of both youth and competition on the position, Jones reiterated Lagudah is his number one this season. Showing his faith in Lagudah as he’s started every game when medically available, as the keeper was kept out of the Oakland University and Northwestern games with a “minor” wrist injury.
“[Lagudah] is a veteran in terms of age. He’s 23 years old,” said Jones. “We have the other players who are just younger, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily worse, but [Lagudah] has more experience playing the position. He’s played for longer and he’s probably the clear number one for us right now.”
Despite only arriving in the spring of 2018, Lagudah took control of the position. However, he said the position was earned, not given, since his recruitment process and arrival in Chicago.
“I wanted to come in knowing I wasn’t starting and just work hard to take the starting spot, I think that’s how it works in a lot of places,” Lagudah said.
Even with conference play beginning, Jones said he hasn’t named an official backup to Lagudah. He played both Konermann and Jillson during the team’s 6-1 loss to Oakland University. Jillson was given the start against Northwestern University at the Hustle to Hoyne, while Lagudah was held out.
“That doesn’t mean loss of form, or injury could possibly happen so the other three are kind of fighting for the number two spot right now,” Jones said. “We constantly talk about that, if something happened to [Lagudah], who would be the guy to go in? That’s a daily competition, for sure.”
Lagudah said the competition could be crucial to the position and the team as a whole. He said similarly to all positions on the field, having depth and contention can make a team far more complete.
“[Assistant Coach] Mike [Mauro’s] a good goalkeeping coach who pushes all of us, so we all know we’ve got competition every day at training,” Lagudah said. “So, we all push each other harder and harder and I think the same can be said for the team for all the places which just makes the starters better.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to continue conference play on Sept. 29 as they face in-state rivals Bradley University in Peoria.