HASTINGS, Neb. – There may not be a finer moment in the history of the Concordia University Men’s Soccer program. Down but not out, the Bulldogs fought back from a 2-0 deficit and ended Friday (Nov. 11) night celebrating the program’s second all-time GPAC tournament championship. Following a 2-2 tie through 110 minutes of action, Concordia got the best of arch nemesis and 23rd-ranked Hastings in a penalty kick shootout, 4-2. Ultimately, Federico Simonetti’s save clinched the title for the visitors on a wintry cold night at Lloyd Wilson Field.
Head Coach Jason Weides led the Bulldogs back to the conference final for the fourth time in his tenure. He’s now a two-time GPAC championship winning coach who has steered the 2022 team to arguably the most successful campaign in Concordia Men’s Soccer history.
“We talked at halftime that our gameplan was working, right, we’re down 2-0 – it’s exactly what we wanted,” Weides joked afterwards. “No, of course it was not the position we wanted. Hastings is a good team and they’re going to challenge you. Our guys were ready for the challenge, we just weren’t great in a couple moments where they scored. When we talked it halftime, we said it was only us in this room that believe we can come back – and our supporters too. You could see it in the faces of every single guy on the team. We had the opportunity if we just believed in it, and we did. I’m just so proud of these guys. Not everybody can come back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime and win.”
The Bulldogs made themselves comfortable throughout this season in games of the heart stopping, nail-biting variety. This one was on a different level. A PK goal from Carlos Orquiz in the 84th minute enacted the new overtime rules that require 20 minutes played to completion. Gabriel Mendoza made a nifty save (one of nine saves) to prevent what looked like an almost certain goal and keep things at 2-2 during the extra time. It took just the right amount of grit to get to a PK shootout.
It immediately went in Concordia’s favor when Victor Meneses converted the first PK and Hastings’ Ross Murphy proceeded to hit the crossbar. All the pressure was on the Broncos, who watched as Joao Pedro Verissimo, Carlos Orquiz and Matt Schultz were each successful on their PK tries. The GPAC banner was clinched when Bulldog keeper Federico Simonetti lunged to his left and denied a PK by Tyler Mase (on Hastings’ fourth attempt). The celebration was on. Simonetti made a beeline for the Concordia cheering section and was then engulfed by his teammates.
“It’s just pure joy,” Simonetti said of that snapshot in time. “The team is counting on you – and it’s just beautiful. It repays us for all the sacrifices we’ve made starting in August and arriving to today. I’m just so happy. It’s so far from home for a lot of us and so far from our families. It’s just beautiful finishing like this.”
It’s that type of jubilation that fifth-year players like Orquiz came back to savor and soak in with his teammates. The resilience to come back from 2-0 down on the home turf of perennial conference power Hastings will live on as the stuff of legend. Said Orquiz, “We knew there was plenty of time. Yeah, it was two goals, but there was still a second half to go. We set out to get that first goal and keep moving forward from there. That’s what we did … It’s something we put in as a goal for this season. I’m so proud of everyone, I’m speechless right now.”
GPAC regular season champion Hastings (15-1-2) appeared well on its way to victory when it led 2-0 at halftime thanks to a goal apiece from Ryan Lewis (on a breakaway) and Lukas Goetz (via a through ball). But Concordia’s hopes were reinvigorated with Adrian Wambua’s header goal off the Orquiz corner in the 52nd minute. Then in the 84th minute, the Bulldogs caught a break when a foul was called in the box. Orquiz (school record 12 assists in 2022) capitalized with a PK goal.
Somehow Concordia (15-2-3) had gutted its way to overtime despite winding up with a 35-8 disadvantage in the shot column. For much of the night, the Broncos were a cleaner and more organized side. They simply failed to slam the door on a Bulldog squad that seems to always believe it has a chance. Concordia proved the moment was not too big. The joy of victory warmed their hearts on a night that became bone-chilling cold by match’s end. There were some parallels to 2015 when the Bulldogs also celebrated a conference title in Hastings, however, this team was less of an underdog.
There were hugs all around for seniors (and some super seniors) like Max Bisinger, Daniel Campbell, Victor Meneses, Carlos Orquiz, Joao Pedro Verissimo, Isaiah Shaddick, Matt Schultz and Federico Simonetti. The team remained on the field at Lloyd Wilson for an extended period. Said Orquiz, “That’s exactly why I stayed a fifth year. I couldn’t be more proud of my family. I’m really, really happy right now.” As Weides put it, “These moments are everything.”
The Bulldogs will learn of their draw for the first round of the national tournament during the NAIA’s live selection show scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. CT on Monday. The show will be streamed live via the NAIA’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/PlayNAIA). Concordia last appeared on the national stage in 2015 when it traveled to Bartlesville, Okla.