HASTINGS, Neb. – A missed penalty kick late in the first half turned the tide in favor of seventh-ranked Hastings in a battle for the GPAC tournament championship on Thursday (Nov. 9) evening. Despite taking an early lead, the Concordia University men’s soccer team fell at the hands of the conference’s top seed, 2-1, at Lloyd Wilson Field in Hastings.
Tenth-year head coach Jason Weides’ squad missed out on an opportunity to upset the Broncos on their home turf. The Bulldogs (16-3-1) made their third-straight appearance in the GPAC postseason final. They had entered the night with hopes of duplicating their 1-0 championship win at Hastings in 2015.
“You want to limit Hastings’ quality chances and I think we did that,” Weides said. “Against teams like this you have to make them score good goals. I just thought defensively we did quite well in limiting their chances. I thought we were better in the attack this time than the first time around (versus Hastings). We had a bit more possession, a bit more dangerous on the break.”
Concordia held a 1-0 lead for more than 30 minutes of first half action. Senior Toby Down set up the game’s first goal with a perfectly played cross into the box from right to left. An unmarked Carlos Ferrer played the ball into the back of the net, causing a stir among the strong contingent of Bulldog fans that made the trip. Barely five minutes had elapsed when Ferrer celebrated by pointing his approval at the visiting fans. Concordia had brought the fight to the Broncos.
For the most part, the Bulldogs limited the opposition’s number of dangerous opportunities. Even without leading goal scorer Daniel Whitehall, Hastings pounced for goals in the 36th and 44th minutes in rare breakdowns for Concordia. Less than four minutes after Marcelo Hernandez’s penalty kick got denied by Joe White, Lucas Venegas knocked in what proved to be the game winner just before halftime.
The Bulldogs dodged some bullets during the second half to remain within striking distance. Concordia goalkeeper Jack Bennett made a pair of quick reflex saves in a five-second span in the 83rd minute. The Bulldogs just couldn’t muster anything on the attack in the waning moments. The national tournament bound Broncos (18-3) outshot Concordia, 24-8.
The 2017 team set a new standard for the program, shattering the previous single-season school record of 12 wins. Four-year seniors such as Toby Down and Micah Lehenbauer helped the Bulldogs go a combined 48-23-10 since the start of the 2014 season. They completely redefined how success will be measured moving forward. It’s no wonder the hugs and the tears poured out amidst the chilly November air.
“These moments are really tough,” Weides said. “It’s hard to be reflective and think about the journey when everybody is really struggling, because we fell short of our goal. We wanted to move on and we wanted to keep playing. You see some smiles, but it’s hard to keep that smile going because you know there are a lot of great things this season and over the course of four years that those seniors have done. They’re leaving the program in great shape. We talk about leaving a legacy and they left a great legacy.”
Though Concordia rose as high as third amongst “others receiving votes” in this week’s national coaches’ poll, it is out of range as it relates to receiving a national tournament at-large bid. The Bulldogs appeared on the national stage in 2015 after making a surprise GPAC postseason championship run as a No. 6 seed. Weides and company will regroup next season without perhaps the greatest senior class in program history.