Last season was bittersweet for the Loyola men’s soccer program — the team made it all the way to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship, but fell to the University of Central Arkansas 2-1.
Shortly thereafter, head coach Neil Jones lost Pat Flinn and Michael Mauro, his two trusted assistants. Flinn and Mauro would go on to become the head coach and lead assistant coach respectively at the University of Chicago.
With the 2019 MVC tournament fast approaching, Jones credits their replacements — Steve Bode and Ricardo Pinto — with helping the Ramblers this year.
Pinto, who played goalkeeper at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay from 2013-16, coached soccer for three years at Stetson University and University of North Carolina Wilmington. The 25-year-old coach credits his recent playing days as part of his own coaching philosophy to connect with the players.
“My personal philosophy in coaching is relatability,” Pinto said. “As a young coach right out of college, these guys can relate to me in different ways than they can to other coaches. I try to give them a global view of the world, helping them improve as soccer players and in the professional world.”
Since Pinto graduated just three years ago, Jones says he sees Pinto as a conduit between the players and coaches in the locker room.
“Often, the head coach is a difficult position,” Jones said. “I’m the ‘bad guy’ sometimes because of not taking a player on road trips or not starting a player in-game. Sometimes it’s good for the players and the program to have someone to talk about these specific things and I thought Pinto would be good for that role.”
For 11 years, Bode has coached at both the college and semi-professional levels, coaching for Marquette University and Brown University and for the United Soccer League Two semi-professional team Chicago FC United.
While at Chicago FC United — a Chicago-based team that plays at Loyola Soccer Park in Rogers Park two miles from campus — the 35-year-old coached Loyola midfielders Giann Magno, Aidan Megally, Tyler Biggs, Ethan Stoneman and Justin Sukow while the Loyola men’s soccer team was in its offseason.
Jones says he credits Bode’s in-game adjusts and tactics, but believes Bode’s midwestern ties help the team improve on the recruiting trail.
“[Bode] is a Midwest guy,” Jones said. “He has good connections Midwest recruiting-wise and, while we have to coach our current players, we have to recruit future players. It was a huge piece in bringing him along.”
While Jones’ said he feels Bode has helped the team improve recruiting, Bode said he feels the Rambler’s brought back a “core group of guys” from last season’s MVC campaign that has the ability to make a run in the MVC tournament and make it back to the championship game.
“Every year you graduate seniors so the team changes,” Bode said. “I think a lot of guys came back and have that experience of having a good season and losing in the final. They have a chip on their shoulders and they want to get back to that level.”
The Ramblers own the second seed in the MVC Tournament with a 10-4-3 record following a 3-0 win against Valparaiso University to close out the regular season. As the second seed, Loyola earned an automatic spot in the semi-finals and will not play its first tournament game until Nov. 15.
The MVC Tournament, which is scheduled at Loyola Soccer Park between Nov. 13-17, will feature Loyola, Missouri State University, Drake University, Bradley University, Valparaiso University or the University of Evansville. Whoever wins the tournament goes on to the NCAA tournament, which the Ramblers last visited in 2016.
Sophomore midfielder Billy Hency, an undecided business major from Fenton, Missouri, said he believes Bode and Pinto have helped this team grow throughout the season.
“[Bode and Pinto] have brought in a lot of new knowledge and viewpoints,” the 20-year-old said. “They’ve helped this team grow, improve and made the team better. They’re always there to motivate us and help us win games.”
Senior forward Aidan Megally said he believes that Bode and Pinto have added a different element to the team which has helped the Ramblers flourish this season.
“It’s nice to have new input from [Bode and Pinto],” the 21-year-old psychology major said. “[Bode] adds a calmness to the locker room and the coaching staff and he’s always coming out with different schemes. [Pinto] is a good link between us and the rest of the coaches. He’s just a go-to guy for the players.”