After posting a 3-2 record to start the season, the Loyola men’s soccer team is heading into Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play with high expectations.
The Ramblers were picked second out of six teams in the MVC preseason poll by conference coaches and received a first-place vote. They are scheduled to face challenging foes in the form of Drake University, which received one first-place vote, and MVC preseason favorite Missouri State University.
Missouri State is currently undefeated in non-conference play with four wins while only allowing a single goal. Meanwhile, Drake is currently 3-3 through six non-conference games, including a loss to DePaul University — which Loyola beat 4-2 Sept. 13.
The Ramblers have three objectives in place for conference play, according to junior midfielder Justin Sukow. The goals are: being one of the top two seeds at the conference tournament, winning the conference tournament and being “the best team in Chicago.”
Senior midfielder Aidan Megally echoed Sukow’s thoughts and said he thinks Loyola could be the best team in the conference.
“A lot of what we need to focus on is just playing our own game because I think we know that we’re one of the best — if not the best — soccer teams in the conference,” Megally said. “It’s just about us being able to do that and not letting teams take away what we’re good at because if we can do that and just work hard, we’ll have a good chance of winning the conference.”
Heading into the 2019 season, the MVC lost its reigning regular-season and tournament champion, Central Arkansas University. Central Arkansas defeated Loyola in last year’s MVC Tournament championship game, and with the reigning champion out of the picture, the Ramblers have a chance to earn a top-two seed for the second year in a row.
But even though the doors open for the Ramblers, Loyola head coach Neil Jones said he sees Central Arkansas’ departure as both a positive and a negative for the conference.
“They were good, a good team that was a thorn on our side the past couple of years for sure,” Jones said. “[I’m] disappointed to see them go due to the quality of the team that they had, not too sad to see them go in terms of the travel and losing to them a couple of times.”
While the team found itself on the losing side of both games on a recent trip to California — a 2-1 loss to California State University, Fullerton Sept. 6 and a 1-0 loss to Loyola Marymount University Sept. 8 — Megally said he believes the lessons learned could help this team in the long run, especially in MVC play.
“Learning from our mistakes, things that we did in California that weren’t good and things that we didn’t do that we need to do,” Megally said. “Going into conference play, it’s going to be particularly important to get good results on the road, even if they are ties, to get as many points as possible because we know we can take care of it at home.”
Jones said the California trip not only encouraged the team to perform better but also served as a stepping stone to what the team hopes to achieve in conference play.
“I think we are in a good spot,” Jones said. “I think the guys are hungry. I think they are disappointed about California because we didn’t show our true colors, which is what’s most disappointing in any part of life when you know what you can achieve and how you can perform and you just don’t perform to that level.”
Loyola is set to begin the conference season Sept. 18 at the University of Evansville. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.