After finishing in second place during the regular season, the Loyola men’s soccer team is turning its attention to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament.
Loyola is the No. 2 seed in the tournament and received a bye to the semifinals, which are set to take place Nov. 15 at Loyola Soccer Park. Whichever team wins the tournament championship Nov. 17 would be the MVC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ramblers narrowly beat Bradley University for the No. 2 seed with a 5-2-3 record, while the Braves ended the season with a 5-3-2 conference record to get the No. 3 seed. Missouri State University earned the first seed after going undefeated in the regular season.
“Having the second seed is huge,” said Loyola sophomore midfielder Billy Hency. “It’s all about us and how we play and we feel if we play our game there is no one we can’t beat.”
The Ramblers are led by senior midfielder Aidan Megally, who paced the team in scoring with nine goals on the season, enough for second in the MVC, with junior midfielder Justin Sukow second on the team with eight goals.
Hency led Loyola with four assists, ranking third in the conference. Goalkeeper Marcel Kampman and the Loyola defense held teams scoreless on seven different occasions in 17 games, the second-best mark in the conference behind Missouri State.
“I think we had a good season,” Megally said. “We achieved two of our three goals for the season of being the best team in Chicago — beating UIC, DePaul and Northwestern — and clinching a top-two seed in the MVC Tournament. All that’s left is winning the MVC Tournament. We’ve set ourselves up to have a really good postseason, and we want to keep that going.”
Aside from heading into the MVC Tournament as the No. 2 seed, the Ramblers have the added benefit of hosting the tournament this season. Loyola head coach Neil Jones said he believes the home field advantage will help the team keep its usual routines rather than deal with travel.
“We played half of our games at home,” Jones said. “It’s obviously a benefit not having to travel and go on a plane or bus and be in a comfortable environment, it’s helpful to our team.”
Loyola trailed only Missouri State in the MVC standings, who finished with a perfect 10-0-0 record in conference play. Missouri State is the only team in the MVC to be nationally ranked, coming in at No. 10 on the United Soccer Coaches poll and No. 11 on the ratings percentage index (RPI) — a metric which ranks teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule.
As the top two seeds, Missouri State and Loyola automatically qualify for the conference semifinals. Bradley will face No. 6 seed Evansville for the chance to play Loyola in the semifinals and No. 4 seed Drake University will face No. 5 seed Valparaiso University for the chance to play Missouri State.
Missouri State led the league in multiple categories including goals, assists and clean sheets. Senior Matthew Bentley led the conference in scoring with 13 goals while sophomore Jack Denton led in assists with eight. The Bears finished the year as the only undefeated team in Division I, going a perfect 16-0-0.
“They’re obviously a phenomenal team and had a phenomenal season,” Jones said. “It would be great for Chicago soccer and great for college soccer to see two good teams battle. We’re focused on that Friday game against Bradley or Evansville who stand in our way of playing in the championship.”
Missouri State is also the only team to beat the Ramblers in conference play, beating Loyola 2-1 both times the teams played. Loyola and Missouri State are on pace to match up for the third time in the MVC Championship. However, Loyola will first have to worry about the winner of the matchup between No. 3 seed and No. 6 seed — Bradley and Evansville.
“[Before we know the winner] we are going to focus on ourselves and our training,” Megally said. “Once we know the winner, it’s about preparing film-wise and watching our past games and see how we can unlock Bradley or Evansville. Basically watching a lot of film and planning tactical things to smooth things up and know what our game plan is come Friday.”
While it’s still unknown who the Ramblers will end up playing in the semi-finals, Loyola and Bradley played two scoreless ties on the season in their two previous matchups. However, Loyola had favorable matchups against Evansville, beating the Purple Aces twice on the season with a 2-1 win on the road and a 1-0 win at home.
The Ramblers open up MVC Tournament play Nov. 15 against the winner of Bradley vs. Evansville at Loyola Soccer Park. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.