ORANGE CITY, Iowa – Whatever barrier had stood in the way of major postseason road victories had faded into oblivion by the standard-setting teams of 2015 and 2016. In many ways, the 2017 Concordia University men’s soccer team has already raised the bar even higher. On Saturday night (Nov. 4) in Orange City, Iowa, the third-seeded Bulldogs avenged one of their two regular-season losses by edging second-seeded Northwestern, 2-1, in a GPAC semifinal clash.
Tenth-year head coach Jason Weides’ program will be headed to the GPAC championship game for the third year in a row. As usual, Hastings stands in the way of a potential conference title. But for now, Concordia (16-2-1) will take a moment to bask in this victory.
“It means a lot to get a win against a good team,” Weides said. “We felt like we underperformed the first time around (in a double overtime loss versus Northwestern on Oct. 7). We knew we could be so much better, and I think we were a lot better. I think our guys are capable of winning no matter if it’s at home or on the road. The opportunity is all we care about and now we’ll get an opportunity in the final.”
This Bulldog team always seems to have a response when faced with a challenge. The game could have been turned on its head in the 70th minute when Tyler Limmer drilled an equalizing penalty kick goal for the Red Raiders (12-6-2). Perhaps another nerve-racking overtime was coming on the horizon.
Just a minute later, Northwestern again faced a deficit when Toby Down rebounded his own deflected shot and reloaded with a terrific finish from 10-12 yards out. From that point on, the Red Raiders scurried in attempt to produce another equalizer that never came. Over the final 10 minutes, Concordia survived four Northwestern shots, including a header that was saved by keeper Jack Bennett.
Bennett made five saves on the night. Each one obviously proved crucial and so did a particular play made by defender Angel Alvarez. Weides commended Alvarez for a slide tackle he made on Limmer in the first half that thwarted a potentially dangerous chance for the Red Raiders. Limmer had been on the run hoping to give Northwestern an early 1-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs pounced in the 12th minute when Marcelo Hernandez played a ball to Lewis Rathbone, who slotted it by keeper Matt Scott for his 12th goal of the season. It was one of only six shots Concordia put on frame. Scott was credited with four saves.
This marks the third year in a row that the Bulldogs have defeated the Red Raiders on their way to the GPAC championship contest. Concordia topped Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the 2015 and 2016 postseason tournaments.
On the other side of the bracket, defending national champion Hastings got past fourth-seeded Midland, 3-2, after facing a 1-0 deficit. The Bulldogs would love to recreate their 1-0 upset of the Broncos that occurred in the 2015 championship game. These two sides have gotten extremely familiar with one another.
“We have similar ambitions as Hastings – to go to nationals,” Weides said. “The only way that either team can 100 percent guarantee that is to win this game. We have to win to advance. I think you’re likely to see a very good game. It’s two great teams battling it out to achieve a team goal. We know there’s a good chance to achieve our goals we’re probably going to have to beat Hastings in these moments.”
The championship game will be staged at Lloyd Wilson Field on the Hastings campus. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on Thursday, Nov. 9.