2017 Team Reviews

Loyola University Chicago 2017 Team and Recruiting Class Review

School:  Loyola University Chicago
Conference:  Missouri Valley
Coach:  Neil Jones - 5th Season
2016 Record:  14-4-1 overall - 6-1-1 in conference
Final  2016 Season Ending National Rank:  21 by NSCAA and College Soccer News   

Five Year Win Total:

2012:  5

2013:  6

2014:  8

2015:  10

2016:  14

Key Losses from the 2016 Team:  Defensive midfielder Ryan Howe (1g, 1a), defenders Kirill Likhovid (0g, 5a) and Kevin Engesser (3g, 1a) and goalkeeper Andrew Chekadanov due to graduation. Midfielder Brody Kraussel (3g, 10a) due to transfer.
2016 Goals Scored and Goals Allowed:  Thirty-four scored. Eleven allowed.
Key 2016 Statistic:  9-0-0 at home. 3-4-1 away.

Background:  The Ramblers had a banner season in 2016 during which they established a school record for wins with a 14-4-1 overall record and a 6-1-1 mark in conferece play. They won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the first time last year, earned a national ranking climbing as high at one point as the number twelve team in the country, and were again unbeaten at home with a 9-0-0 mark. They also earned the program's fourth berth in the NCAA Tournament and returned to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since the 2011 season. The Ramblers then topped UIC 2-0 to secure their first ever NCAA Tournament win before falling to Notre Dame 1-0 in the second round of play.

The win trend line has continued upward during each of the four seasons to date that Neil Jones has been at the helm of the program. 

Loyola Chicago moved from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference in 2013. They earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2006, 2008, and 2011 by virture of winning the Horizon League Tournament and the league's automatic berth. The Rambler's 2016 berth into the NCAA Tournament was their first ever at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament and their first since joining the MVC.  

Andrew Chekadanov was named the 2016 MVC Goalkeeper of the Year and was a First Team All-MVC selection. Midfielders Ryan Howe and Brody Kraussel, forward Elliot Collier and defender Grant Stoneman were also named to the All-MVC First Team. Stoneman was also named a Second Team All-American by the NSCAA.

Defender Kirill Likhovid, forward Alec Lasinski, and midfielder Kyle Thompson were 2016 All-MVC Second Team selections.

Jones and his staff of Nate Boyden, Michael Mauro and Jeff DeGroot were named the 2016 MVC Coaching Staff of the Year. 

Number Starters Returning in 2017:  Six 

Offense:  There are a lot of "knowns" on the offensvie side of the ball for Loyola Chicago heading into the 2017 season. Loyola Chicago returns seventy-nine per cent of its scoring from the 2016 team that produced a total of thirty-one goals. It is significant that five of the Ramblers top seven goal scorers from the 2016 squad are slated to return.  .

Senior Elliot Collier (5g, 2a) who has been a starter the past three seasons and juniors Alec Lasinski (7g, 4a) and Connor Stevenson (3g, 1a) will provide offensive punch to the attack up-top.

Brody Kraussel who lead the MVC in assists last year with ten will be missed in the midfield but a very solid contingent of linkmen are slated to return including senior Kyle Thomson (1g, 2a) who has been a starter since arriving on campus, junior Fabian Lifka (2g, 2a) who has two years of starting experience under his belt, junior Ryan Walker (3g, 0a) and sophomore Aidan Megally (2g, 1a).   

Forward Lucas Imrie whose resume includes experience with the New Zeland National Team, midfielder Tyler Biggs who honed his skills with the Pacesetter Soccer Club, and junior midfielder Tucker Stephenson who transfers in from West Virginia are among the newcomers who could immediately add an additional dimension to the offense. 

Defense:  While there are a lot of "knowns" on the offensive side of the ball, there are plently of "unknowns" headiing into the 2017 campaign on the defensive side of the ball.

Departures due to graduation include defensive midfielder Ryan Howe (1g, 3a) who was a four-year starter, defenders Kirill Likhovid  (0g, 5a) who was a four year starter and Kevin Engesser (3g, 1a) who was a two-year starter and goalkeeper Andrew Chekadanov who posted twelve shutouts while recording a 0.57 goals against average and anchoring a defense that allowed a total of only eleven goals in 2016.  As a reult the Ramblers will have to reload on the defensive side of the ball in 2017. 

On the plus side of the ledger the Ramblers return redshirt junior defender Grant Stoneman (3g, 1a) who is a rock solid ball winner and sophomore Marius Kullman (1g, 2a) who now has a year of starting experience under his belt. They provide a solid foundation upon which to build but beyond Stoneman and Kullman there are a lot of unanswered questions.  

Defense has been the Ramblers calling card in the past and chances are pretty good that it will continue to be an area of emphasis in the future. Head coach Neill Jones, who was an outstanding four-year starting center back himself as a collegiate player at UCSB, has shown the ability in the past to successfully reload on the defensive side of the ball.  Nonetheless, the Ramblers will have some new less experienced players in the lineup on the defensive side of the ball which has the potential to be problematic in the early going. 

Defender Mike Riley out of the Minnesota Thunder Academy and goalkeeper Aidan Aylward out of the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy, who is among three netminders in the recruiting class, are among the newcomers who could challenge for playing time right away. 

Newcomers:

Coach Jones stated, "Our entire staff is extremely excited to welcome these nine young men, and their families, to the Loyola Men's Soccer program."  He added, "As these freshmen begin their careers here at Loyola, we anticipate that they will come in and work extremely hard both on and off the soccer field in order to compete for playing time, and continue our pursuit of more Missouri Valley Conference Championships, and our ultimate goal of a National Championship."

Aidan Aylward - Goalkeeper - Ottawa, Canada - Burnaby Central Secondary School - Played for Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-18. Recorded a 36-8-12 record in goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Tyler Biggs - Midfielder - Sylvania, Ohio - Sylvania Northview HIgh School - Three-time All-Northern Lakes League selection. First Team All-State. Tallied twenty goals and contributed fourteen assists his senior season. Played for Pacesetter SC. 

Jaylen Davila-Smith - Goalkeeper - Chicago, Illinois - Shattuck-Saint Mary's High School - Recorded a 8-5-1 record in goal through the fall portion of Shattuck-Saionint Mary's schedule.

Lucas Imrie - Forward - Auckland, New Zeland - Sacred Heart College - Named top high school player of the year at Sacred Heart College. Played for Western Springs AFC. Played for New Zealand National Team.

Evan Konermann - Goalkeeper - Louisville, Kent - Louisville Collegiate School - Honorable Mention All-State. Posted fourteen shutouts his senior season. Played for the Kentucky Fire Juniors.

Mike Riley - Defender - Plymouth, Minnesota - Wayzata High School - Played for the Minnesota Thunder Academy -

Jonathan Sanchez - Forward - Wheeling, Illinois - Wheeling High School - Played for FC United. Three-time All-Mid-Suburban League selection. East Division Player of the Year. All-State selection.

Christopher White - Defender - Vernon Hills, Illinois - Vernon Hills High School - Played for GLSA FC. Three-time All-Sectionial selection. All-State selection. Netted twenty-one goals and contributed thirteen assists his senior season.

Liam Woehrle - Defender - Winter Park, Florida - Lyman High School - Played for Orlando City SC U-18. 

Tucker Stephenson - Midfielder - Overland Park, Kansas - St. Thomas Aquinas HIgh School - Junior transfer from West Virginia were he appeared in twelve contests in 2016 and nineteen in 2015. Played for Sporting KC Academy. 

Prognosis for 2017:  The challenge at Loyola Chicago heading into the 2016 season was to maintain the level of play on the defensive side of the ball while upping their productivity on the offensive side of the ball. The Ramblers accomplished that in 2016 by allowing a total of only eleven goals (as compared to sixteen in 2014 and eight in 2015) and increasing the number of goals scored from nineteen in 2014 and 2015 to thirty-one in 2016. The impact of that was reflected in an increase from eight wins in 2014 to ten wins in 2015 to fourteen wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2016.

The Rambers head into the 2017 season with some gaps to plug but overall they look to be a very talented team which bodes well for the continued success of the program. However, duplicating a fourteen win season and winning another MVC regular season title while clearly not out of the question will be difficult.

The progress made on the offensive side of the ball last year and the fact that a solid core of finishers return means that the challenge at Loyola Chicago has shifted from increasing productivity on the offensive side of the ball to maintaining it. In the past, offensive productivity at Loyola Chicago was as a work in progress and an area of the game where a key opportunity for improvement existed. After a thirty-one goal season in 2016, offense looks to be a team strength heading into the 2017 campaign.

With Alec Lasinski (7g, 4a), Elliot Collier (5g, 2a) and Connor Stevenson (3g, 1a) returning up-top along with a solid group of midfielders like Fabian Lifka (2g, 2a) and Kyle Thomson (1g, 2a) the outlook on the offensive side of the ball is promising.

However, a makeover will be required on the defensive side of the ball due to the voids that must be filled due to graduation. Successfully plugging the gaps in the backline and in the goal look to be key unknowns and the critical factors that will have the biggest impact on the level of success the Ramblers will have in 2017.

The bottom line is that while Loyola Chicago has gaps to fill and will likely have to call upon several inexperienced players to assume far more prominent roles, they will enter the 2017 season with plenty of talent and depth and that's always a good situation to be in.

Loyola Chicago had a historic season last year during which they established a new standard of success for the program. The Ramblers tasted success in the MVC as well as on the national scene.

Look for Loyola Chicago to enter the 2017 season as a confident and unified team hungry to build on what they accomplished in 2016. If they are able to successfully plug the key gaps then the 2017 team should be very good once again.