As Tucker Stephenson prepared for his senior season on the Loyola men’s soccer team this summer, he said he had three goals: be a leader, give his all and play professionally following this year.
Stephenson is in his first full season for Loyola. He was out the majority of last year with a broken collarbone but played one too many games to be a medical redshirt, which would’ve given him one more year of eligibility.
Although Stephenson spent a good part of his junior year out with an injury, he said he’s focusing on helping the team make a run to the NCAA this year.
“I’m using the time I didn’t have to play last year to motivate me this year,” Stephenson said.
Head coach Neil Jones said Stephenson is someone who’s “hungry” for success, especially considering he missed two-thirds of his junior year.
“He’s a senior … seniors are often desperate,” Jones said. “[He has] the desperation to leave as a winner.”
As someone who first watched Stephenson play during his senior year of high school, Jones said he’s aware of Stephenson’s level of dedication and talent.
After high school, Stephenson went on to play for University of West Virginia. After making his decision to transfer after his sophomore year, he said he reached out to Jones about playing for Loyola.
Jones said he believed Stephenson could add to the team’s attack, and he would provide a character that’s hardworking and passionate about the game.
“On an overall quality grading system, A through F, he’s an A level player,” Jones said.
When it comes to his work on the pitch after coming to Loyola, Stephenson said he’s focused more on becoming a defensive-minded player. Since arriving in Rogers Park, he narrowed in on this role although he said he loves to attack and take on defenders.
There’s more to Stephenson than what he does on the pitch, according to senior midfielder Fabian Lifka. Lifka said Stephenson is a fun, but calm, person who considers what other people think of him.
“He’s a really nice guy,” Lifka said. “He provides us with a lot of energy on and off the pitch.”
Jones described Stephenson as a player who performs at his best when he’s his most confident.
“He’s a good guy to be around,” Jones said. “He’s funny, he’s passionate about the game and he’s passionate about how to become better.”
Stephenson said he’s already looking ahead to his future after Loyola, including a possible future career at the professional level. Jones said Stephenson spent some time training with Major League Soccer (MLS) team Minnesota United over the summer, and he’s now being monitored by them this season so scouts can decide whether or not to pursue him.
MLS is the highest level of professional leagues in the U.S. and Canada, consisting of 23 American teams and three Canadian teams.
Stephenson’s rights as a player are currently owned by Sporting KC, an MLS team based in Kansas City, Missouri, after playing there during his youth. This means if Stephenson wanted to play somewhere other than Sporting KC after his college career, the negotiations would need to go through Sporting KC in order to release him from their club. However, it’s still uncertain where he’ll sign after Loyola.
Jones said it’s important to him that his players continue their careers professionally, and Stephenson wouldn’t be the first. Elliot Collier, who played for Loyola’s men’s soccer team from 2014-17, plays with Chicago Fire.
For now, Stephenson said his focus is on the season ahead and his goal of winning a championship with the team in his senior year.
“I just want to go as far as I can with them, and give my best for them,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson and the Ramblers are scheduled to take on Drake University at Loyola Soccer Park Sept. 22.