Men's Soccer

In Pursuit of the Comeback: Loyola Men’s Soccer Aims for the Title

Emily Burdett | The PhoenixLoyola — which ranks 71st in the nation — holds an overall record of 8-3-1 and a conference record of 5-1-1, placing second only to Missouri State University, which ranks 21st in the nation.

After losing to Missouri State University 1-0 in the spring 2021 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship, the Ramblers are looking to make a comeback in the fall. With the season nearing its end, Loyola is looking statistically sharper this time around.

Coming back from two consecutive losses against Missouri State in the MVC Tournament Final and a fall 2021 regular season match, the Rambler stars return on a mission — and according to Loyola head coach Neil Jones, with high expectations.

“We have high expectations for the group, we want more trophies,” Jones said. “We want to get back to the NCAA tournament again. We were there in 2019. We’re hungry to get back.”

The Ramblers welcomed back five All-MVC selections this year. Senior midfielder Billy Hency and graduate student Tyler Biggs are the two returning First Team All-MVC selections. Junior defender Marc Torrellas, senior forward Fabian Becerra and redshirt junior defender Michael Hong return as Second Team All-MVC selections, along with MVC All-Freshman Team selection and sophomore defensive midfielder Julian Cisneros. 

Graduate midfielder Giann Magno — a key facilitator and 2019 Second Team All-MVC selection — returns as well, following recovery from a season-ending knee injury.

With six starters adorned with All-MVC awards, the Ramblers finished last season with a 7-4-2 overall record and a 5-2-1 MVC record. They reached the MVC tournament final and lost 1-0 to Missouri State University. Disgruntled with their loss, Jones said the team has gotten better, especially on offense.

“I think we’ve been really dangerous attacking-wise. We’re actually playing a new formation than we did in the last season,” Jones said. “I think it’s a little bit more defensively frail, but more dangerous attacking-wise.”

However, Loyola has conceded a higher average of goals per game this season, though it has only increased by a mere 0.14 from last season — from 0.69 to 0.83 — a small price to pay for the team’s impressive improvement on offense.

This season, the Ramblers have scored 27 goals in 12 games. Throughout the 13-game 2021 spring season, the team scored 19 times — improving their goals per game average from 1.46 to 2.25 — an astonishing 54% increase.

According to Cisneros — who’s tied for second-most goals on the team with four — the team’s noticeable improvement has occurred as a result of returning to a fall season. Because of COVID-19 limitations, Loyola and the MVC had to postpone its fall 2020 season to the spring of 2021.

“Our greatest improvement is being able to just spend a lot more time together,” Cisneros said. “Last year with COVID we would mostly just come to the facilities and just go home. This year I think we’re a lot stronger because we’re a lot closer and we got to know each other on and off the field a lot better.”

Cisneros said having more time together as a team has helped build team chemistry. Something particularly important to the incoming first-year class — a group that’s already made an impact this year.

Headlined by forward John Gates and defender Benni Hofmann, the 2021 first-year class looks promising. Gates has played in all 12 games, scoring two goals and tallying two assists. Hofmann has posted solid numbers as well, scoring one goal and making four assists in eight games played.

“I’m enjoying watching them develop and grow, and that’s all part of our program,” Jones said. “It’s not about how good you are on day one of your career, but it’s how good [you can] be on the last day of your career.” 

Hency came to Loyola as a first-year under Jones and finished his junior season as the MVC Player of the Year, recording six goals and four assists. In fall 2021 — his senior season — his seven goals and seven assists already mark his career highs for both categories in just 12 games.

“Goals for myself — just keep the team going, keep the team working hard,” Hency said. “Team goals are more important than individual ones. We’re here to win trophies and hopefully we’ll end up in the NCAA tournament.”

According to Hency, fans also have an important influence on the players’ performance and their ability to win games.

“[They] just bring a lot of energy to the team,” Hency said. “It makes home games so much more exciting, fun to play, and also makes them easier. The more fans cheering us on, the more energy we have. We always want to show up and play good for our fans.”

Due to COVID-19 limitations, there was an average of 25 fans per game in the spring season of 2021. However, fall 2021 has had an average of 489 fans per game so far, as new COVID-19 restrictions loosen up. 

“It wasn’t the same without fans,” Jones said.

With five returning All-MVC selections, a new formation propelling a stronger offense, a promising freshman class and most of the COVID-19 limitations being lifted, the Ramblers look to bring back the MVC title and reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

Loyola currently holds an 8-3-1 record, 5-1-1 in the conference and is ranked 71st in the nation, placing second only to No. 21 Missouri State University — the only MVC team to hand Loyola a loss this season and the defending champions of the MVC. The teams are set to collide in the last game of the season at Loyola Park Nov. 6.

“Credit to Missouri State, they’re 6-0 in the conference,” Jones said. “They are yet to drop any points. We need to take care of business and hopefully that game will mean something on that last home game.”

The Ramblers continue their fall 2021 campaign when they host Bradley University at Loyola Soccer Park Oct. 27. Kick-off is set for 7pm with the game set to be broadcast on ESPN+.

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