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Live-on-the-edge Bulldogs proved capable of competing with top teams in '18

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 29, 2018 in Men's Soccer

At the very least, it’s fair to say that the 2018 Concordia University men’s soccer season provided plenty of entertainment. Seven games went to overtime (12 total overtime periods) and 12 contests were either decided by a single-goal margin or ended in draws. A squad with a flair for the dramatic even triumphed in a penalty kick shootout in the GPAC quarterfinals.

It was a season unlike any other for a program guided by Jason Weides, who completed his 11th season as head coach. The Bulldogs may not have advanced to the national tournament as hoped, but they effectively retooled after letting go of an accomplished 2017-18 senior class.

“We were in every game. We were competitive with every single team we played, regardless of their ranking,” Weides said. “We played a team like Bellevue, who went undefeated until nationals, and we had a lead. Unfortunately we surrendered a lead late in the game. It just lets us know that we can play with anybody in the country. We were just a couple moments away from having a really remarkable season.”

The campaign ultimately ended with a 3-0 loss at fifth-ranked Hastings in the GPAC semifinals. That defeat snapped a string of three-straight appearances in the GPAC postseason championship game. On the plus side, Concordia managed to notch at least 10 wins for the eighth season in a row while earning the right to host a GPAC quarterfinal match for the third-consecutive year.

That quarterfinal clash went down as a classic that will likely never be forgotten by the coaches and players involved. Unable to hold a 1-0 lead supplied by a goal from star Carlos Ferrer, the Bulldogs and rival Midland needed penalty kicks to decide who would move on. Concordia got the upper hand in PK’s, 4-3, with senior goalkeeper Jack Bennett making the clinching save that set the home team into a state of celebration.

“It was fun because you don’t see those very often,” Weides said. “It was the second one I’ve been part of as a coach and I think it’s the second one we’ve had in our entire program’s history. The good news is our seniors had been through that once before (2015 semifinals at Midland). I’m sure that helped us a little bit. Those situations are tough. It can really go anyway. You can have great players miss or make it. It was fun to see it go our way.”

While there was some disappointment over not securing one of the GPAC’s two automatic berths to the national tournament, all was not lost. The Bulldogs entered the final week of the regular season as somewhat of a longshot to lock up a top four seed for the conference tournament. However, they impressively won at Midland, 3-1, and then got past Briar Cliff, 2-1, in double overtime in the regular-season finale.

Considering the way the season had gone, it seemed fitting that the senior day affair would go more than 90 minutes. A 90th-minute equalizer by Briar Cliff could have devastated Concordia mentally, but it did not. With only 33 seconds left in double overtime, Roger de la Villa put away his second golden goal of the season. Had the outcome gone the other way, the Bulldogs would not have hosted in the conference quarterfinals.

Said Weides, “That meant a lot for our seniors. It was a very emotional day for them. It was exciting for them to know they were going to get another opportunity to play on their home field. For our underclassmen, that was a really big moment too because they knew they were sending the seniors out on a good note. There were a lot of great moments like that throughout the season.”

One of those moments came on Sept. 12 when Jack Arra delivered perhaps the team’s most spectacular goal all year. His bicycle kick goal in the 94th minute brought an abrupt end to yet another overtime nail biter. Not only did that goal lift Concordia over McPherson College, it also marked the 100th win of Weides’ head coaching career.

That particular victory was sandwiched in the middle of a three-game win streak that included a triumph at national tournament qualifier Kansas Wesleyan University. The 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Coyotes was early evidence of what the Bulldogs were capable of. They also competed closely with rival Hastings in a 2-0 home loss on Oct. 3.

Following the season, second team all-conference honors went to Angel Alvarez, Bennett, Ferrer and de la Villa. The award for Bennett was the ultimate sign of respect. Bennett missed eight games due to injury, but he had earned a reputation as one of the league’s best.

“One of the challenges we had to overcome this season was injuries,” Weides said. “We had more injuries than I can recall in the past few years. It was a challenge for Jack. He had big expectations for his senior year and certainly was capable of being a first team all-conference goalkeeper. Him getting second team indicates his quality and his impact on our team.”

Concordia still put a strong team on the field even when players like Bennett were forced to miss time. Fortunately, Ferrer (six goals, nine assists) sat out only one game while making progression in his performance as a junior. Said Weides, “He’s one of those guys our opponents really recognized as someone really tough to stop 1v1.”

There are many others worth mentioning. Newcomers like Arra, de la Villa, Carlos Orquiz and Konrad Sinu made immediate impacts. Additionally, veterans in Alvarez and Derek Eitzmann were rocks along the back line and David Carrasco (six goals, three assists) earned the term of “super sub.” The fall was another season of improvement for others like Evan Hayden, Matthew Ho, Garrett Perry, Kevin Sanchez and Joao Pedro Verissimo, who each will be counted upon heavily in 2019.

For now, members of the team can enjoy a breather before things ramp back up in the second semester, which is a crucial time for player development.

“First thing is now they have a chance to take a mental break,” Weides said. “We really encourage our guys for the few weeks after the season to take a break and decompress a little bit. After that we’ll really get after it. We want to see who’s ready to step up. We’re going to add some good players who will help us, but I’m always excited to see who will really grow over the offseason.”