Currently sitting at 9-4-2 overall and 3-0-2 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play, the Loyola men’s soccer team has strung together a seven-game unbeaten streak as it closes out its MVC schedule.
This mid-season winning streak has vaulted the Ramblers into first place in the MVC with only one conference matchup remaining. The run was highlighted by 1-0 victories over Xavier University and No. 25 Missouri State at Loyola Soccer Park.
This turnaround has come in a timely fashion for Loyola, according to redshirt senior defender Grant Stoneman, who attributed it to the team’s organization in defense.
“We’re just defending way better than we were, and if you defend well, you’re gonna get results,” Stoneman said. “At the end of the day, we’re defending better as a team and individually, but the biggest part was finding the right group of guys.”
The Ramblers have found strength in their defense since the beginning of conference play, as they’ve only conceded two goals in five conference games and are tied for the best statistical defense in the conference with Missouri State.
These stout defensive performances and improvements came from the struggles the team saw to open their season, according to junior defender Marius Kullmann.
“We had a tough start to the season, that’s for sure,” Kullmann said. “We’re getting better every day in practice and we knew we just had to trust the process. We’ve learned how to defend better as a team and that’s been key to the success we’ve had as a team recently.”
These early season difficulties saw the Ramblers concede nine goals, which included a 6-1 home loss to Oakland University through their first four non-conference games. However, since their overtime loss to Northwestern University Sept. 7 the team has picked up seven wins, two draws and a single loss which came to University of Illinois at Chicago.
Head coach Neil Jones said his team has hit its stride heading into the end of its conference season.
“More than anything, I think it’s been the guys growing into the season and the new players gaining more experience as well as the leaders on this team really stepping up, so I think it’s been a combination of factors,” Jones said.
Along with its solid defense, Loyola has found success in its ability to adapt to different teams’ play-styles and its opponents’ strengths, according to Jones. This has come from the Ramblers’ ability to change between a 3-5-2 and a 4-1-4-1 formation mid-game. In soccer, the numbers in a formation show how many players are in a certain location on the field, a 3-5-2 indicates three defenders, five midfielders and two attackers.
“We’ve been able to switch between some different formations to try to find better balance in the team offensively and defensively,” Jones said. “We’ve had the caliber of players this year and the understanding within that group of players to be able to make that switch when it proves beneficial to us.”
Kullmann praised this tactic Jones has employed since conference play began, as he said he believes it has helped the team improve their performance on defense. He said it’s also helped them offensively especially after their early season difficulty scoring goals.
“We struggled converting our possession into goals at the beginning of the season and we just worked on our finishing and our crossing cause the service had to be better which we all knew,” Kullmann said. “I think it’s been improving over the last couple games but I think we still have room to improve.”
With 13 goals in eight games since the beginning of conference play, Jones said the team has progressed significantly in that aspect. Despite these improvements on both ends of the ball, Jones said his team isn’t looking ahead and knows exactly where their goals lie.
“We want to get a one or a two seed [in the MVC tournament] just so we can play one less game and be guaranteed in the semi-final so as we close out,” Jones said. “It’s all about getting points in the conference table and trying to secure that top seed that’s all we’re focused on right now.”
The Ramblers season is scheduled to be back in action Oct. 27 as they close out their conference schedule on the road against Central Arkansas University.