SEWARD, Neb. – It’s become an annual thing: Concordia University men’s soccer making a drive west on I-80 to meet Hastings in the GPAC tournament championship game. The Bulldogs and the No. 6 Broncos will match up in the GPAC title contest on Lloyd Wilson Field at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday. Concordia also met in the conference final in 2015 and 2016.
The 2015 meeting was more to tenth-year head coach Jason Weides’ liking. On a historic night for the program, the Bulldogs upset the then 19th-ranked Broncos, 1-0, on Nov. 12, 2015. A similar outcome would propel Concordia to another national tournament berth.
“We have similar ambitions as Hastings – to go to nationals,” said Weides following last week’s semifinal victory. “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 that to achieve our goals we’re probably going to have to beat Hastings in these moments.”
The road back to the GPAC championship game has included wins over Briar Cliff and Northwestern for the third-seeded Bulldogs. With its 2-1 win at Northwestern on Nov. 4, Concordia (16-2-1) avenged one of its only two losses during the regular season. The Red Raiders had tied the game with a penalty kick goal in the 70th minute, but the Bulldogs quickly responded with Toby Down’s game winner just a minute later.
Seniors like Down have reached at least the conference semifinals each season of their collegiate careers. That class has helped the program to a GPAC tournament record of 7-2-1 since the start of the 2014 season. The one tie resulted in a shootout victory at Midland in the 2015 conference semifinals. Seniors are responsible for much of the team’s offensive firepower with Micah Lehenbauer (12), Lewis Rathbone (12) and Marcelo Hernandez (11) having combined for 35 goals. Fellow senior Florian Caraballo just picked up his second GPAC weekly defensive award in three weeks.
Hastings escaped Seward with a 2-1 win on Oct. 25 and locked up its 18th-straight GPAC regular-season title. This postseason, the Broncos have protected their home turf with a 4-1 win over eighth-seeded Dordt and then a 3-2 triumph over fourth-seeded Midland. As a result of what occurred in the semifinals, Hastings will be without Daniel Whitehall (22 goals, seven assists) and Marc Tautz (nine goals, 11 assists) on Thursday. Concordia’s task will still be a significantly challenging one while faced with an opponent that has won 18-straight games against GPAC opponents.
Thursday’s game can be seen live online by accessing Hastings’ Stretch Internet portal. The winner is guaranteed a spot in the opening round of the national championships, which will take place Saturday, Nov. 18.
2017 GPAC Men’s Soccer Tournament
Tuesday, Oct. 31 – Quarterfinals
No. 1 Hastings 4, No. 8 Dordt 1
No. 4 Midland 2, No. 5 Morningside 0
No. 3 Concordia 1, No. 6 Briar Cliff 0
No. 2 Northwestern 4, No. 7 Doane 2
Saturday, Nov. 4 – Semifinals
No. 1 Hastings 3, No. 4 Midland 2
No. 3 Concordia 2, No. 2 Northwestern 1
Thursday, Nov. 9 – Championship
No. 3 Concordia (16-2-1) at No. 1 Hastings (17-3), 7 p.m.