Men’s soccer gears up for tough conference tournament

After losing to Missouri State University in their last game of the regular season, the Loyola men’s soccer team is preparing for a tough Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s soccer tournament for hopefully land his ticket to the NCAA tournament.

The Ramblers are led in the playoffs by a seasoned squad of three graduate students and five seniors. Head coach Neil Jones said the team are playing for their seniors at the last stage of their college career.

“[We have] talked about our five guys and how we got to play for them, how it’s their last go-around, ”Jones said. “They’ve put a lot of work and effort into this program, and we owe it to them to give it our all. ”

Among Jones’ experienced squad is senior midfielder Billy Hency, who leads the team with nine goals this season. Senior striker Fabian Becerra said Hency’s scoring potential will be essential for the team this weekend.

“The other team is still watching him, seeing what he’s doing,” Becerra said. “Every time he has the ball, something special is going to happen.”

In a team that has been together for years, Becerra said the team chemistry is the best he’s ever seen. The players are close to each other and are there, helping each other and trying to coach the freshmen, he said.

“The last few weeks have been tough, but the team are really used to bouncing back,” he said. “We have really special players and players with very high charisma who bring jokes and laughs, but also know how to be serious. [There’s] very good team chemistry at the moment.

Loyola was seeded second in the conference tournament due to his 6-3-1 record in the Valley game. With second place standing, the Ramblers were given a first-round bypass with seeded Missouri State.

Jones said the first-round exemption would help give his team an edge over their opponents as his team will have more time to practice and strategize for Friday’s semi-final game.

“Games are very taxing on the body, physically and mentally,” he said. “We are able to work on some things today and focus on training to prepare for a tough game on Friday.”

The conference tournament kicked off on November 9 with two quarter-final matches. Four-seeded University of Evansville (4-13-1, 3-6.1) defeated five-seeded University Drake (6-9, 3-7) 4-2 in Evansville, Indiana.

Two goals from junior winger Nkosi Graham put the Purple Aces to victory, while two goals from senior Drake forward Juan Louis were not enough to carry the Bulldogs to victory.

Bradley University (5-11-1, 3-7) faced Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (6-10-2, 4-6) in Edwardsville, Illinois for the other quarterfinal game.

The Braves won the game 2-1, beating the Cougars with goals from second-year forward Danny Collins and second-year midfielder Rasmus Smidstund.

Due to the tournament standings, Loyola will face Evansville on November 12. Evansville averages 0.82 goals per game while allowing 2 goals per game.

The Purple Aces are a physical team, earning 41 yellow cards and two red cards this season. This season, the Ramblers are 1-0-1 against Evansville, battling to a 0-0 double-overtime draw on September 18 and crushing the Purple Aces 5-1 on October 16.

For every Valley team, Missouri State is the team to beat in the conference tournament. The Bears (15-1, 10-0) are ranked No.11 in the AP’s Top 25 and lead a 13-game winning streak among the best in the NCAA. The Bears excel, averaging 2.19 goals per game while conceding just 0.63 goals per game.

Junior forward Jon Koka leads the team with five goals. In his two games against Missouri State this season, Loyola lost 2-1 in overtime on October 9 and 2-1 on November 6.

Missouri State will face Bradley on Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri. The Bears have won their two games against the Braves this season, defeating Bradley 1-0 on October 2 and 4-0 on October 31.

Becerra said it’s easy to focus on Missouri state, but the team needs to stay focused on winning Friday first. He said his team and the Bears had a strong rivalry, adding an extra incentive to win on Friday and try to beat Missouri State on their home turf.

“We have a rivalry against Missouri State so it would be nice to beat them on their own turf,” he said. “It’s one of our goals this weekend, and I hope we can get there.”

The Ramblers begin the playoffs with the MVC Men’s Soccer Tournament semifinal game on Nov. 12 in Springfield, Missouri. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will air on ESPN +.

The tournament championship game is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Springfield. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN +.

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