2014 men's soccer season preview

By on Aug. 20, 2014 in Men's Soccer

2014 men’s soccer season preview

Head Coach: Jason Weides (49-55-8, six years)
2013 Record: 10-9 overall; 6-4 GPAC (5th)
Returning Starters: 10
Key Returners: Carlos Acosta (MF), Mark Anderson (D), Brendan Buchanan (GK), Mark Campbell (MF), Chris DeFeyter (MF), Sean Doran (D), Will Gabbert (D), Justin Lawrie (D), Marcos Leon (D), Gideon Soenksen (F), Jake Sells (MF), Dean Stevens (F)
Key Losses: Nathan Douglas (F)
2013 GPAC All-Conference: Nathan Douglas (first team), Chris DeFeyter (second team), Sean Doran (second team), Mark Campbell (honorable mention), Gideon Soenkson (honorable mention)

There may not be a more veteran team in the GPAC than Concordia, which returns 12 players who started at least nine games in 2013. Seventh-year head coach Jason Weides has a battle-tested squad at his disposal – one that could put the school record of 12 wins in a single season in serious jeopardy.

A program coming off its third-straight season of 10 victories or more brings back virtually every key piece, save for all-time leading goal scorer Nathan Douglas. That means the only real question centers around adapting with life sans one of the GPAC’s most prolific strikers over the past four years.

“Ultimately we did rely a lot on Douglas in terms of what he did in front of the net,” Weides said. “He scored a significant amount of goals last year for us. I think a lot of guys just turned to him for the answer all the time. One thing we did this spring was just to learn how to play without Dougie. That will still be a challenge moving into the fall but I think we took a step in the right direction this spring. Despite losing a guy who scored that many goals and had been such a vital component, I think this is when you see the rest of the team step up.”

There are plenty of candidates capable of doing just that. Concordia boasts star midfielders in senior Chris DeFeyter (six goals) and junior Gideon Soenksen (two goals), both exceptionally skilled players. There’s also two-time second team all-conference center back Sean Doran and another rising star in sophomore defender Mark Campbell. The defense is also anchored by junior Justin Lawrie and senior keeper Brendan Buchanan (28 career starts in goal).

The list doesn’t end there. Junior forward Dean Stevens appears on the verge of a breakthrough and the likes of sophomore midfielder Carlos Acosta, junior defender Mark Anderson, junior defender Will Gabbert, sophomore defender Marcos Leon and junior midfielder Jake Sells all have logged heavy minutes early in their careers. Lack of experience will not be an excuse.

“There is definitely a lot more pressure on us as a team because we can't fall back on being inexperienced or young anymore,” Soenksen said. “However I think this pressure will force all of us as a group to step up and we'll have many sources of leadership and inspiration to look to.”

Soenksen and DeFeyter rise to the top in any discussion about leadership and inspiration on this Bulldog group. DeFeyter is a team captain and Soenksen is noted as one of the squad’s most tireless workers. The game of soccer is in the blood of Soenksen, a former Lincoln Lutheran standout.

“I’m not sure if many players on our team get more touches than Gideon Soenksen in the offseason,” Weides said. “Those guys set the bar pretty high for working hard. They’re just big time players. They have the skills. They have leadership. They have the drive. They’re good student-athletes.”

While the record of 32-22-3 over the past three seasons sounds good on the surface, the word ‘dissatisfaction’ still comes up among Weides and the players. They’re tired of ending their season in the GPAC quarterfinals.

“Losing in the first round has been really painful for me personally and I'm sure for the team as well,” Soenksen said. “What makes it worse is that we know we have the talent and ability to have won those games but we underperformed when we really needed to play well. I think those two losses will be a huge motivator for us.”

Soenksen’s assessment sounds just like the one given by his head coach.

“I think it really leaves a bad taste in our mouth,” Weides said. “We had been pretty dissatisfied with how we finished and knew we were capable of more. I think that provided a lot of hunger for the offseason. We have a lot of guys who have really worked hard. Whether it was getting touches or working hard in the weight room – we just have guys who are dedicated and want to advance farther and have their season end on a better note.”

A balanced roster without any glaring weaknesses appears poised to do just that. There’s little doubt things will flow a bit differently with the top goal scorer having moved on. DeFeyter and Soenksen both point to the potential benefits of being able to play more as a team. They admit they will miss Douglas, but now they won’t have the thought of always playing off of him.

“With Dougie we were a completely different team. There’s no doubt about it,” DeFeyter said. “With him leaving it will hurt us a little bit but I don’t think it’s going to necessarily drain us. I think we’ll bounce back and be better. With Dougie we played a lot more direct and to him and tried to work off of him. Now we’re going to have to try to learn how to play with each other. I thought through spring season we really proved that we could do that.”

Where does the offensive production come from now for a team that got more than one-third of its goals from Douglas in 2013? Soenksen expects himself to score more and Weides sees goals coming from a host of different players.

Just as important, Concordia does not planning on conceding much on the other end. The Bulldogs came close to holding their opponents scoreless throughout an unbeaten spring season. The pieces are in place to succeed in all facets of the game.

Soenksen sees a team that will be a pain for opponents.

“Instead of having one single focal point for our attacks and relying on one person to score, we'll have more than one way to attack – through more people,” Soenksen said. “It will make it a lot harder for other teams to defend us. “

The large veteran presence means playing time could be scarce for Concordia’s class of newcomers. However, Weides sees the potential for some freshmen to make an impact. The Bulldogs get a boost from international additions in midfielder Toby Down (Hong Kong, China) and forward Sam Toufique (East Kilbride, Scotland).

Picked to finish fifth in the GPAC, Concordia kicks off the 2014 season at home with Bethany College visiting Seward on Friday (Aug. 29) for a 7:30 p.m. game.