After struggling to score goals consistently last season, the Loyola men’s soccer team (5-3-1, 2-1-1) has found new success in front of goal in 2019.
Averaging 1.44 goals per game this season as opposed to a 1.11 mark last year, the team has found a new offensive identity. This change has come from two key factors, according to head coach Neil Jones: a year of experience for the team’s wingers, sophomores Billy Hency and Fabian Becerra, and University of South Carolina transfer midfielder Justin Sukow playing a major role in the Ramblers’ attack early on.
“For us, this year it’s really been a variety of guys taking the next step forward for us,” Jones said. “[Sukow] had the benefit of being here for the spring season with us so he’s had a really seamless transition and really been huge for us early on this year which has been good.”
Sukow, a junior business major, has hit the ground running in his first season in Rogers Park, leading the team with four goals and sits second with a pair of assists. The midfielder has accomplished this feat in only four shots on target as well. T
he early success comes after Sukow spent the spring semester and summer adjusting to life at Loyola after transferring from South Carolina.
“I haven’t had too many shots this season actually — that’s one thing I think I’ve done pretty well is be clinical with my chances,” Sukow said. “I think in general this year we’re doing a good job of finding good chances and creating key chances in other team’s final third.”
Alongside this, Sukow echoed Jones in saying how important the development of wingers Becerra and Hency has been to the team’s success this season. He also said Becerra’s current injury — which Loyola Athletics didn’t respond to requests for comment about — has hurt the team’s attack since he went down injured against Loyola Marymount University Sept. 8.
“[Becerra and Hency] are definitely two of our better attacking players,” Sukow said. “[Hency] has done a great job this year of moving the ball and taking guys on and [Beccera] being out has really hurt us but he’ll be back and I know he’ll have a big impact on our team and our attack once he’s back healthy.”
Beyond these factors, the team’s numbers in comparison to last year have shown a proven change. The team has scored two goals or more in a game three times already this season — highlighted by a four-goal outburst against city rival DePaul University. This trio of performances showcased the Ramblers’ improvement after they failed to record more than a single goal in 15 of their 19 games last season.
Even with this change on attack and the increased success the team has had, Jones maintained the same stance he had in August — that his teams are built from a strong backline.
“That’s who we’ve always been as a program,” Jones told The Phoenix in August. “We defend hard and we pride ourselves on holding a clean sheet, but there’s always more opportunity to score more goals.”
The Ramblers have found this success so far even without the team’s most experienced striker remaining goalless. Chase Wright, a senior forward from Lakeville, Minnesota, has yet to register a goal or an assist in eight starts this season. Despite this, Sukow said all Wright needs is one goal to get going and continue the Ramblers’ improvement up front as a team.
“I think once [Wright] gets that one goal, which he will, he’ll continue to find more for us,” Sukow said. “He’s one of the leaders on this team without a doubt so even if he’s not scoring he’s having a major impact for us, whether it be in practice or in the locker room.”
The Ramblers’ season is set to continue Oct. 9 against Northwestern University in Evanston at 7 p.m.