Coming back into action after a Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship loss four months ago, the Loyola men’s soccer team is ready to get back to work in the fall 2021 season.
Head coach Neil Jones said the quick turnaround between the abbreviated spring and fall seasons has been nice this year because the team would normally have to wait almost a full year to get back in action and work towards a win. Now, they have the opportunity much sooner.
The Ramblers hold a 1-1-1 record through their exhibition games this fall, and will begin regular season play with an away match against city rival DePaul University Aug. 26. From there, Loyola is scheduled to play four more non-conference games before stacking up against Valley teams, though, Jones said he’s still looking for a few more opponents before conference play.
Looking at non-conference play, graduate midfielder Giann Magno said he’s looking forward to playing two Chicago rivals with DePaul and Northwestern, as well as the two trips Loyola will take to play Michigan teams.
“There are really exciting challenges about to come our way,” he said. “We really have a good team this year, so we’re really excited to showcase what we have against those bigger teams.”
Jones said one of the team’s goals this year is to get back to the NCAA Tournament, which the men’s team last attended in 2019, falling in double overtime to University of Kentucky in the first round. He said the Ramblers also want to win the MVC Championship on their home field, which would require them to win the regular season.
The Ramblers are ranked in second place in the MVC Preseason Poll, coming in behind last year’s conference champion Missouri State University. Jones said he believes it’s an accurate ranking with how talented the Missouri State team is — finishing the spring season ranked at No. 13 in the country — and he thinks they’re the team to beat this season.
Magno said he believes the team has always had a talented defense, so its focus is now shifting to scoring more goals.
Loyola brings in eight first-years this season, which Jones said will provide new players in a variety of different positions, including a forward, two defenders and five midfielders — who, Jones added, are fitting into the team well so far.
The Ramblers will also return the MVC Player of the Year, senior midfielder Billy Hency, along with other well-established upperclassmen such as senior forward Fabian Becerra, junior defender Andrew Mitchell, graduate midfielders Tyler Biggs and Magno.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced guys who’ve played a lot of college games and a lot of college minutes,” Jones said. “We’re hoping that that experience along with their mentality and their talent will carry them forward to being strong contributors on a top team.”
Although the team dealt with several injuries in the spring — including Magno’s season-ending knee injury — it forced the team to depend on more players that previously hadn’t played as much.
Biggs said the team’s depth, helped by a talented first-year class, will be one of its main strengths this year.
“We have a lot of depth in a lot of positions on the field,” Biggs said. “I think you’ll see a lot more guys playing than in the previous years.”
The Ramblers will begin their regular season when they travel south to play DePaul Aug. 26. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be streamed by the Big East Conference.