The Loyola men’s soccer team defeated the University of Illinois Chicago 2-1 to win the Chicago Cup April 25. Two goals by freshman forward John Gates and junior defender Marc Torrellas powered the Ramblers through the Flames and helped close off an undefeated spring schedule.
Loyola faced five opponents in their spring schedule, winning four games against Lewis University, Western Illinois University, Northwestern University and UIC, and tying one against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
At the helm of the Ramblers is Steve Bode, who made his head coaching debut with the Ramblers this spring and is off to an undefeated start. Bode said the hard work of his athletes and training staff is what got them this far.
“To finish the spring season how we did was really rewarding,” Bode said. “Our players put in a lot of work over the course of the last five months and you look back from January to now we’ve made some big strides as a team and individually.”
However, Bode said spring is typically used to focus on improvements and that results sometimes come secondary to growth. He said that since his arrival in January, his players have been training hard in the weight room and on the field, and that it paid off this summer.
“I told the team after the game on Saturday when we won the cup, ‘winning is never a given,’” Bode said. “But of course I think it’s a byproduct of [our] process and a byproduct of the work that they’ve put in, but even in that it’s never a given.”
In Loyola’s five spring schedule games, the Ramblers were able to score a total of 11 goals while only conceding three. They averaged 2.2 goals per game, posted three clean sheets and went undefeated in Bode’s first five games with the team. However, with both offense and defense posting strong numbers, Bode said his staff and players are always eager to find something to improve on.
He said the team has been working on what he calls “transition to attack moments” or counterattacks, meaning quickly scoring a goal after regaining possession of the ball. Bode said their work showed in the spring and that they were having no problem creating the opportunities, but like every other team, Bode said they had to get better at scoring on them.
When asked which game stood out to him most in the spring, Bode said it was the 1-0 victory over Northwestern. Bode said his team was playing at a level where they want to play at — keeping the opposition in their half of the field and controlling the game — but mentioned there were a few other opportunities in which they could’ve scored.
Bode said there’s still a lot of work to do before the start of the regular season but affirmed they will be in a good spot in the fall for the start of the regular season and their move to the Atlantic 10 (A-10). In terms of what team they want to be, Bode said he wants versatility.
“We want to be a team that can win in different ways because we know in the Atlantic 10 we’re going to come up against different challenges, different opposition styles of play,” he said. “We feel we are a team that can dominate possession… But also some games you’re not going to be able to do that.”
Bode, senior midfielder Billy Hency and sophomore midfielder Julian Cisneros, all said the team feels motivated to work even harder for this upcoming season. Following their previous season’s unexpected ending when they lost to Evansville Nov. 12 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) semifinals, they said the team has a chip on their shoulder they won’t forget about.
Cisneros, former MVC All-Freshman Team selection, said that his team is going for the title in the A-10, no matter what its opponents think of them.
“You can view us however you want, but we know we’re just gonna focus on ourselves and do what we have to do in order to get results,” Cisneros said. “I’m sure they’ll be people who underestimate us because we’re coming from a smaller conference but we know what we have to do and we’ll play anybody.”
Loyola welcomes back five First Team and one Second Team All-MVC selections from last year, making the Ramblers a dark horse candidate for the A-10 title. Undefeated under Bode and with a Chicago Cup title this spring, the Ramblers will wait for August — specific dates yet to be determined — to kick off the 2022 preseason.