After finishing the regular season with a 9-6-2 record — including 3-1-2 in conference play — the Loyola men’s soccer team now turns its focus to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament in Evansville, Indiana. The team must win the tournament to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ramblers concluded their season on a two-game losing streak, falling to conference leader University of Central Arkansas and PAC-12 Conference contender No. 23 University of Washington in Seattle. Now, head coach Neil Jones said the team looks to refocus as it prepares for the MVC Tournament this week.
“We need to get back to the things that we do well, which we did not do on Saturday night,” Jones said. “We looked frazzled and we didn’t look like a team that had gone unbeaten in the month of October.”
When Loyola takes the field in the tournament semifinal Nov. 9, they’ll be without Jones. He was given a red card against Washington and, as a result, is suspended for the next game.
Despite these setbacks, Jones said he believed those loses came at the ideal time for the Ramblers, who were flying high on a seven-game winning streak before the back-to-back losses.
“[Those games] were a wake-up call for all of us as to what can happen to us, as even if you’re the better team, it doesn’t necessarily come down to that,” Jones said. “It comes down to passion and desire and intensity at times I think that’s a good preview for us as to what the Missouri Valley tournament games are gonna look like cause it’s win or go home.”
Senior forward Alec Lasinski, a management major, echoed Jones’ thoughts and said the team needed these struggles to help them assess their weaknesses before the MVC tournament.
“That game shook us a little bit, but it gave us a good experience going forward [on] how to play against them [Central Arkansas]. [And on] what we need to do to beat them if we face them again in the tournament,” Lasinski said. “We just have to look at our previous games against [Missouri State University and Central Arkansas] and see what worked and what didn’t and find what we need to do to win against these tough teams.”
As the team now centers its attention on the MVC Tournament, Jones said the tournament is anybody’s to take, but believed it would most likely come down to Loyola, Missouri State and Central Arkansas.
“They’re both very good teams,” Jones said. “Difficult teams to play in terms of defense. They’re very organized and hardworking and definitely have some potent attacking threats.”
Missouri State (8-2-5, 2-2-2) and Central Arkansas (7-5-3, 4-1-1) have both wrapped up impressive seasons and picked up the one and four seeds in the tournament, respectively. Lasinski said it’s going to take a full team effort to beat them and grab an NCAA bid; however, the senior forward said he believes the Ramblers are up to the task.
“We need to take the opportunities we’re given and we need to figure out how to break down these tough defenses and convert on those,” Lasinski said. “It’s gonna require a solid defensive effort from the forwards to the back line. We’re going to have to put away our chances when we get them and try and hold possession as much as possible.”
Returning home from Seattle Nov. 2, the Ramblers will have almost a full week of rest before the MVC Tournament semifinals. Jones said the team will travel down to Evansville Nov. 7 in an attempt to get acclimated and better prepare. Jones said the team will then attend the MVC award show on Thursday before their first semi-final match.
“Our plan is to train at Loyola Wednesday morning then head down to Evansville that day with a plan to train there Thursday afternoon,” Jones said. “Then attend the MVC award show that night and then play our semi-final match on Friday.”
The Ramblers season is scheduled to continue Nov. 9 against the winner of the Drake vs. Valparaiso matchup in the semi-final of the MVC Tournament.