After playing all summer for Chicago’s United Soccer League Two team (USL Two), Chicago FC United, five of the Loyola men’s soccer team’s key contributors are ready for big seasons in 2019.
These five players — midfielders Giann Magno, Aidan Megally, Tyler Biggs, Ethan Stoneman and transfer Justin Sukow — played alongside some of the best collegiate players in the Midwest region and led the team to a Great Lakes Division title in the process. Loyola head coach Neil Jones said this experience is a huge part of the big expectations he carries for his team this season.
“I think it’s very important,” Jones said. “And that was pretty calculated by us to get those guys as many minutes on the field together but also being a part of a team with those guys is huge as we look to the new season.”
Formerly known as the Professional Development League (PDL), the USL Two is a league comprised of teams full of collegiate players throughout the United States and Canada. Composed of 72 teams in 11 regions, the league serves as a chance for the nation’s best collegiate players to compete during the summer offseason while also getting valuable professional experience and maintaining their eligibility.
This summer, these five Loyola players joined forces with stars from Midwest powerhouses such as University of Wisconsin-Madison, Marquette University and local rivals DePaul University and University of Illinois at Chicago. Magno said this was a great opportunity and one that will help the Ramblers when they face off against these foes this season.
“It was great to play a full season with a few guys from this team like [Magno] and Biggs because I’d really only practiced with them before then and played three games in the spring so it was great to get a full season and get some chemistry with them this year.”
-Justin Sukow, junior midfielder
“Just to see the way people react and their tendencies on the ball is really important,” Magno said. “Not only is it a great chance to see how your teammates will play and work with them, but there’s another side to it with getting to learn your opponents games as well.”
Jones said the league is vital toward his player’s development during their time at Loyola and has played a major part in the decision of which make it onto the roster.
Along with being beneficial for Jones and Loyola, Chicago FC United has continued to benefit from the relationship between the two clubs. Since their foundation in 2016, they’ve used Loyola Soccer Park to host their home games.
“It’s a fantastic relationship and I think it will only continue to strengthen,” Jones said. “We have a great relationship with them because they play their home games at Loyola. We’re doing them a solid and they’re very good about allowing our guys to play with them so it’s a win-win for FC United and Loyola.”
This summer, Jones said he helped handpick the five players to play for FC United with a single objective in mind: getting them used to playing alongside Sukow, a transfer from the University of South Carolina.
Sukow joined the Ramblers in the winter of 2019 after he recorded eight goals and three assists over a pair of seasons with the Gamecocks. Sukow said the spring season and the summer with FC United is vital to him hitting the ground running in his only season in Rogers Park.
“I think it was incredibly important from a comfort and chemistry standpoint,” Sukow said. “It was great to play a full season with a few guys from this team like [Magno] and Biggs because I’d really only practiced with them before then and played three games in the spring so it was great to get a full season and get some chemistry with them this year.”
Sukow is expected to play a major role as a goal-scorer in the team’s midfield this season and Jones said his time with FC United is a big reason for that. While discussing Sukow and the four others, however, Jones said managing workloads and not overworking them are major concerns with playing on the team during the summer.
These concerns led to him resting the quintet over various games this preseason, a move that has given much-needed rest to the quintet and in turn prepared them better mentally for the upcoming season.
“You do really worry about fitness versus freshness,” Jones said. “You can’t be so fit that you’re exhausted, but you can’t be so fresh that you’re not in shape so there’s always a struggle there. I’ve been working to spread the minutes and keep them fresh and we’re already seeing the benefits of this process [because] I’ve seen some of these guys’ best soccer this preseason.”
The Ramblers’ season is scheduled to continue Sept. 6 at California State University, Fullerton in Fullerton, Calif.