Former Loyola men’s soccer forward Tucker Stephenson has signed a contract to play professional soccer in the United States this coming season.
Stephenson will play for the Swope Park Rangers of the United Soccer League (USL) Championship, the club announced via Twitter July 23.
“I knew really early on when I was younger that I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” Stephenson told the Phoenix. “My grandma has a homework assignment from second or third grade where you write down what you want to be and I wrote ‘pro soccer player,’ which is pretty crazy.”
The American professional soccer system has multiple tiers. USL Championship is the second-tier league behind Major League Soccer (MLS), and MLS teams have affiliated teams in lower divisions such as USL Championship. In the case of the Rangers, their parent club is Sporting Kansas City of the MLS.
The Rangers, who play in Kansas City, are only in their fourth season but have made the USL playoffs every year, including being the runners-up in their first two years.
After playing at West Virginia University for two years, Stephenson transferred to Loyola in 2017 for the remainder of his collegiate career. The Overland Park, Kansas native tallied two assists in his senior campaign and earned a spot on the All-Missouri Valley Conference Second Team.
Stephenson said playing professional soccer became more of a reality after playing at Loyola for two years, crediting Loyola’s head coach Neil Jones.
“I think it really became ‘I could really do this’ after the last couple seasons with Loyola,” Stephenson said. “Neil really pushed us. He gave us the confidence to believe that we can really do this.”
In addition to playing collegiate soccer, Stephenson played for various soccer club teams during summers. These included the youth academy for Sporting Kansas City and two teams in the USL League Two — a lower division of the USL Championship. The USL League Two is specifically designed to give collegiate players an additional opportunity to showcase their skills while still maintaining NCAA eligibility.
Last summer, Stephenson played for Kaw Valley FC in the USL League Two. He was named the Kaw Valley MVP after scoring nine goals in 11 appearances.
“I think where I kind of broke out a little was with Kaw Valley last summer,” Stephenson said. “[The head coach] made the season really relaxed and provided a system where each player could be successful in whatever position he wanted you to play in.”
Stephenson is now the third former Rambler to currently play in the USL Championship, joining Elliot Collier and Tim Dobrowolski.