Head Coach: Jason Weides (150-104-33, 16th year)
2022 Record: 15-3-3 overall; 8-1-2 GPAC (2nd); GPAC tournament champions
Key Returners: D Iker Casanova; D Jarrod Henson; F Martin Herrera; F Carter Hinman; GK Gabriel Mendoza; MF Matt Schultz; F Isaiah Shaddick; MF Braden Spath; D Adrian Wambua; F Ryan Wokutch.
Key Losses: F Dominic Abdel-Ahad; D Max Bisinger; F Daniel Campbell; MF Carlos Orquiz; D Joao Pedro Verissimo; GK Federico Simonetti.
2022 NAIA All-America: Max Bisinger (Honorable Mention).
2022 GPAC All-Conference: Dominic Abdel-Ahad (First Team); Max Bisinger (First Team); Carlos Orquiz (First Team); Martin Herrera (Second Team); Matt Schultz (Second Team); Isaiah Shaddick (Second Team); Ryan Wokutch (Second Team); Gabriel Mendoza (Honorable Mention).
If there’s a simple catchphrase that would accurately describe the mantra for Concordia University Men’s Soccer it would undoubtedly be: “go further.” The 2023 Bulldogs have put last year’s thrilling GPAC tournament championship run in the rearview mirror and are focused on the strain and toil it will take to get back to that point – and beyond. Concordia may have bid adieu to three First Team All-GPAC performers, but the established culture carries much more weight than any single individual.
Winner of 150 career collegiate games, Head Coach Jason Weides returns for year 16 leading his alma mater. Weides sees his program in a position to capitalize on the success of 2022 with a roster he believes to be even more competitive and laden with talent and depth.
“We tried to really simplify the message and say, ‘We want to go further,’” Weides says of the preseason in-house chatter. “That’s not easy and we’re not expecting that it’s just a simple straight path. There will be a lot of challenges along the way – both internal and external challenges. That’s really it – we want to go further. We don’t want to just equal what we did. We want to go further in every aspect. That’s a really challenging thing to say and go try to achieve, but that’s been our mantra since this spring. We’re living that out so far this fall.”
In the follow-up to a 15-3-3 national tournament qualifying campaign, the Bulldogs landed at No. 2 in the 2023 GPAC preseason coaches’ poll while receiving votes nationally. Concordia even raked in three first-place GPAC votes as a sign of the respect it generated from last fall’s run. Sure first team all-league honorees Dominic Abdel-Ahad, Max Bisinger and Carlos Orquiz have departed, but there’s a belief within the team that a major hurdle has been cleared in terms of mentality and chemistry. The Bulldogs also received some major news when Matt Schultz, Isaiah Shaddick and Victor Meneses opted in on their ‘COVID year’ of eligibility.
Collectively, they helped Concordia get over the hump in tight moments and in clutch situations. The Bulldogs won nine games last season by one-goal margins and memorably stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the GPAC tournament final. Schultz and company were not thrilled with the results from 2021 (8-7-3 overall), so they went and did something about it.
“A year before last year, we kind of broke off with each other,” Schultz said. “Last year something happened. Something pushed us. I don’t know what it was, but we became so close with each other, and the chemistry is there. I don’t want to look back into the past too much. I know we won the GPAC and we went to nationals. Based on who we played at nationals and the level we were at, we know where to go and how to play. We need to know the mentality it takes and I think we have a good understanding right now. I’m really excited about this year.”
From the 2022 squad that outscored opponents by a combined total of 51-21, Concordia welcomes back five All-GPAC award winners: Martin Herrera (second team), Schultz (second team), Shaddick (second team); Ryan Wokutch (second team) and Gabriel Mendoza (honorable mention). In addition, two-time second team all-league choice Iker Casanova returns to the back line as a captain entering his fourth year as a starter. Wokutch (six goals in 2022) represents the leading returning goal scorer while Shaddick will look to add to his 17 career goals.
Three others who saw action in last season’s national tournament are back in the fold: Jarrod Henson, Slade Leicht, Meneses and Adrian Wambua. As a freshman, Wambua was one of three players to start all 21 games in 2022 (joining Abel-Ahad and Orquiz in that category). The list of experienced holdovers also includes the likes of Carter Hinman, Spencer Kaufman, Michael Lindberg and Braden Spath. Throw in the group of newcomers and Weides will have a challenge in doling out minutes.
“Our returners have really developed and come along nicely,” Weides said. “Some guys had the best springs they’ve ever had and took monumental steps forward. Some of these guys are better prepared to take on bigger roles than they’ve ever had before. We also have a decent size recruiting class and so far in preseason it’s been really promising in terms of their preparedness and ability to step in right away and help the team. They have increased the competition level. I think we have more competition for spots than we had last year, and that’s a good problem to have. It’s been a promising preseason so far because of that.”
A year ago, Concordia went four deep with keepers all capable of holding down the starting role. When called upon, Federico Simonetti made the GPAC title clinching save in the PK shootout with Hastings. Simonetti graduated and went on style. That leaves Mendoza to battle it out with Nolan Fuelberth and a trio of youngsters still working on making their mark. The Fuengirola, Spain, native Mendoza made 11 starts last season at keeper and recorded three shutouts. He starts this year with a leg up in terms of experience.
Among newcomers, Kiel, Germany, native Okan Erkocu is poised to make an immediate impact. Weides sees him taking on a spot as a center midfielder. Erkocu stands a strong chance of making his way into the starting 11. As for the 13 freshmen on the roster, five come from outside the country (three from Germany) while six are native Nebraskans. Weides’ best teams have always seemed to have multiple newcomers contribute in a significant manner. They will have to quickly be brought up to speed and rise to meet the program’s championship aspirations.
“I think it’s developing grit, mental strength and perseverance,” Weides says of the program’s culture. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been intentional in trying to develop that and I think our guys have challenged themselves individually and collectively to hold each other accountable. They focus on what we can control and focus on positive responses to things, even if it’s setbacks. We’re going to have setbacks this year. We don’t know when it’s going to happen or where it’s going to come from, but we’ll have setbacks. That might be a goal, that might be a result, that might be an injury – it could be a million different things. We have to focus on embracing that new challenge and realize the path isn’t always straight where we’re going, but we can still get there.”
Added Schultz, “There are going to be a lot of roadblocks externally with other teams and coaches. Most importantly, I think it’s on us. We are the roadblock. That’s what we figured out last year. When we developed relationships with each other and the coaches, and developed such good chemistry, we had this bond and knew we could trust each other. Trust is the biggest thing. This year I’ve already seen it. We have faith in one another to go further. We’re going to make mistakes collectively and individually, but we bounce back. We just kept going at it last year. We want to keep that same mentality.”
The 2023 season will officially get started on Aug. 26 when Concordia is set to welcome Graceland University (Iowa) to Bulldog Stadium. Each of the season’s first three games will take place at home as the Bulldogs define their identity and begin a journey they hope forges deep into the fall. The complete 2023 schedule can be found HERE.