Strong season for LaGro, Creighton Reds began at LUFC
By Keeler McJunkin
Lane United’s Mitch LaGro and the other Reds from Creighton are teammates year-round.
Ricky Lopez-Espin, Riggs Lennon, Joel Rydstrand, Akeem Ward and LaGro play together for the Bluejays during the NCAA season, but also take the pitch as teammates for LUFC over the summer.
That time spent on the field has helped build trust between the five players and has propelled the Bluejays to a season that has seen them ranked No. 6 in the country while consistently staying in the top-25.
“It definitely helped with our team chemistry,” LaGro said. “We have all these stories, moments and things from Lane we’ve been able to relate back to and translate to our season at Creighton. We really know where each other are going to be on the field.”
Not only has the experience helped the Creighton Reds on the field, they were able to become closer friends through living together in Eugene as part of Lane United. LaGro said the time they’ve spent with LUFC is special.
“Everyone from Creighton thinks really highly of Lane and we’ve all had good experiences there,” LaGro said. “We got really close to a lot of guys on the team, but the thing we liked most about Lane is the clean, genuine style of soccer. We liked to possess and outpass the other teams. I think we were the best team in the league, we just had trouble putting the ball in the net.”
LaGro was named Second Team All-Big East defender after starting every game for Creighton alongside a young back line. He said he’s happy with his progress as a player this season and really focused on improving his range of passing.
The Bluejays, (11-5-3) have struggled with consistency at times being a young team, especially on the road, but LaGro thinks they have righted the ship as the postseason has gotten underway.
“We tend to come out a little timid on the road and didn’t have a lot of experience playing in that environment,” LaGro said. “We outshoot teams and impose our style of play, but we haven’t converted them into goals. I think we’re figuring it out at the right time of year as we mature.”
The start of that maturing on the field and learning how to play on the road can be traced back to the summer with the Reds, when head coach John Galas was able to instill his love for the game on the players.
Motivating guys to show up every day ready to work hard and improve can be tough, even more so during a season that features a lot of games in a short amount of time. Galas was able to accomplish that.
“He was able to get us excited and want to go to practice each day,” LaGro said. “The kind of coach he is, you want to play for him and do well. He knows when he needs to be strict, but also when to joke around and have fun.”
As the Bluejays continue through the Big East Tournament and get ready for the NCAA Tournament to start next week, Galas could see the framework of Creighton’s strong season coming last summer.
“Playing, training and living together over the course of the season with us really helped them get to know each other’s tendencies as players,” Galas said. “It’s been nice to see them translate that into a successful season at Creighton this fall.”
LaGro is confident his team is ready to play their best soccer of the year when it’s all on the line in a win or go home situation like the postseason.
“You have to look at each game as a final,” LaGro said. “Limiting mistakes in a tournament environment is huge and when you’re playing great opponents it comes down to who’s able to capitalize on those mistakes.”
The Bluejays will have that opportunity Sunday when they take on Butler in the Big East Tournament Championship Match.