Head coach: Jason Weides (127-94-27, 14th year)
2020 Record: 10-5-3 overall; 7-2-2 GPAC (5th)
Key Returners: MF Yessine Bessaies; D Renzo Bozzo; F Daniel Campbell; D Iker Casanova; MF Caleb Goldsmith; D Decker Mattimoe; MF David Moreno; MF Carlos Orquiz; MF Garrett Perry; MF Matt Schultz; F Isaiah Shaddick; GK Federico Simonetti; D Joao Pedro Verissimo; F Ryan Wokutch.
Key Losses: MF Mauro Figueroa; F Moises Jacobo.
2020 GPAC All-Conference: Iker Casanova (Second Team); Moises Jacobo (Second Team); Carlos Orquiz (Second Team); Federico Simonetti (Second Team); Garrett Perry (Honorable Mention).
The Bulldogs reconvened this August with plenty of familiar faces reuniting for preseason camp. The 2021 roster features 17 players with starting experience, including three ‘COVID seniors,’ and 11 newcomers ready to enter the picture. Because of the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic, Concordia is just four months removed from the close of the two-part 2020-21 season. There’s a hunger to put behind a unique exit that occurred this past spring in the GPAC quarterfinals.
Head Coach Jason Weides’ program is coming off a solid overall season, but one that felt a bit unsatisfying in the end. One thing is a given with this program – it’s going to win 10 games and it’s going to be competitive within the GPAC.
“It’s the finest of margins,” Weides said of the difference between a good season and a special one. “For some of our teams that have had 10-win seasons but fell short of our goals or made it to the conference final and came up short – it’s the finest of margins. It might be a PK shootout. It might be an overtime game. It might be one goal. It’s all the little details. We really try to focus on those details throughout the year that help us get there. It’s the finest of margins that separate those truly great seasons from the good seasons where we didn’t quite get where we wanted to. I’m excited about the opportunity this year to really make it a great season.”
The 2020-21 team finished at 10-5-3 overall and placed fifth in the GPAC regular-season standings. Four of the five Bulldogs who earned All-GPAC honors last season have returned this fall: Iker Casanova (second team), Carlos Orquiz (second team), Federico Simonetti (second team) and Garrett Perry (honorable mention). Not only does Concordia bring back Simonetti in goal, it also returns 85.4 percent (35 of 41) of the goal scoring production from last season.
In other words, the Bulldogs won’t be afraid of any moment or situation, and they genuinely believe they can play with any team in the NAIA. In action last season, Concordia played to a 1-1 draw with a Briar Cliff team that finished ranked 21st and pushed eventual national champion Missouri Valley College (2-1 loss) to the wire on the road.
Said Orquiz, “Last year was hard for not just us, but for everyone. What we had to do the entire season was adapt to every unexpected circumstance. We had some pretty close games against top 10 teams in the nation. That led us to have some higher expectations as a team, knowing that we can compete against any team in the nation.”
Weides appears to have a well-balanced roster as he heads into his 14th season leading his alma mater. Last season’s captains, Decker Mattimoe and João Pedro Veríssimo, are among the notable returners. Both own extensive experience as part of the back line. Concordia foes would also be hard-pressed to match the experience of Orquiz and David Moreno as defensive midfielders. Orquiz has been a steady performer the past three years while Moreno has a unique story. This is his sixth year on an NAIA roster.
As a freshmen, Casanova (center back) and Simonetti immediately stepped into starting roles and played at all-conference levels. Additional depth will be added with the return to health of Renzo Bozzo, who earned honorable mention All-GPAC accolades in 2019. There are so many other potential contributors to name, including lineup regulars such as Yessine Bessaïes, Caleb Goldsmith, Michael Lindberg, Matt Schultz and Isaiah Shaddick, among others.
Weides isn’t too worried about finding goal scorers. Watch out for the Lincoln Southwest alum Shaddick, who wound up leading the team with six goals last season.
Said Weides, “I think there are several guys you can see the hunger from who have been working hard. Isaiah Shaddick has been right on that cusp of having a breakout season. We really preach to our guys that we want those things for you as individuals, but at the end of the day, if you don’t score the 15 goals and someone else does, who cares? It’s really what our team’s doing. We have some guys returning who are poised to have some big seasons. I don’t know who that person will be, but I could see several guys doing that. I could see us being similar to recent years where there isn’t just one guy that teams have to key on. We’re going to be scoring from this position and that position. Hopefully we have multiple guys with five-plus goals.”
Concordia is normally solid in its team defense having surrendered 23 goals over 18 games last season. The Bulldogs recorded five shutouts behind Simonetti, who started all but two games. So long as health is a strength, Weides and his staff will have decisions to make in terms of its back line. To be sure, the bench will be a deep one.
Orquiz sees the wealth of experience and competition this preseason as a strength. Said the native of Chihuahua, Mexico, “It helps a lot for sure because we already have that connection between teammates. Now what we’re trying to do is incorporate the newcomers to keep that same team bonding that we usually have here. I think it’s going great (in preseason) with the full roster.”
Most likely, the competition will also put forth a number of COVID seniors who are taking advantage of a chance to play one more season. The group of COVID seniors for Concordia includes Moreno, Pedro Veríssimo and Perry. The latter produced five goals last season.
The competition within the GPAC just might be as good as it’s ever been. The Bulldogs believe they are ready for it.
Said Weides, “We’re a team that’s capable of competing with anybody. We may run into someone who’s better than us on paper, but we’ve got to be able to outperform them on the field and still get results. Last year was a perfect example – a narrow loss to the eventual national champion. It did show our guys that we can truly compete with anybody. I like our chances against anybody if we have the right mentality.”
The 2021 season is slated to kick off on Wednesday, Aug. 25 when York College will visit Seward for a 7 p.m. CT matchup.