It’s anyone’s guess as to what may have resulted this postseason had a heartbreaking penalty kick shootout gone the other way in the GPAC quarterfinals. Unfortunately, that particular scene at Northwestern in Orange City, Iowa, remains the freshest memory from a unique two-part season for Concordia University Men’s Soccer. The 2020-21 campaign began back on Sept. 9 and concluded on April 10.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19, Head Coach Jason Weides experienced a season unlike all the others in his 13-year tenure at his alma mater. The Bulldogs wound up with an overall record of 10-5-3 and placed fifth in the GPAC standings. Those details will likely be overshadowed years down the road.
Said Weides, “The one thing I’ll always remember is the penalty kick shootout that finished our season. Those are pretty memorable moments. Unfortunately that moment didn’t finish in joy and jubilation for us. I’ll remember all the challenges the student-athletes went through and how everybody here at Concordia made it work to get us on the field and play. It was a season where I spent more time focusing on the protocols than coaching at times. That’s just the reality that every coach was in.”
Weides has presided over a program that, ever since 2011, has been competitive enough and talented enough to be a factor in the GPAC race each season. Led by the likes of four second team All-GPAC honorees, the ’20 edition put together a mark of 7-2-2 within a league that sent three teams to the NAIA national tournament. Some highlights of the conference season included wins over rivals Doane and Midland and a 1-1 draw with eventual GPAC postseason champion Briar Cliff (a top 25 team in the final NAIA poll).
For the 10th season in a row, the program achieved at least 10 wins. This year’s Bulldogs managed to reach that mark while facing one of the most challenging schedules in school history. Concordia played six national qualifiers throughout the fall and spring: No. 1 Missouri Valley, No. 8 Bellevue, No. 17 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.), No. 21 Briar Ciff, No. 23 Morningside and Hastings (just outside the final top 25). Way back in September, the Bulldogs earned a 2-1 win over MidAmerican Nazarene in Olathe, Kan.
Concordia traveled to play eventual national champion Missouri Valley as part of a three-game slate of regular season contests this spring. An Isaiah Shaddick goal in the second half made it a 1-1 stalemate until the Vikings found the game winner in the 85th minute. In the lone home appearance this spring, the Bulldogs defeated Midland, 4-2.
Over the 18 games in 2020-21, Concordia outscored its opponents by a combined total of 41-23. All-in-all, it was an overall solid season. However, Weides had hopes of making a more serious run at a conference championship.
“From an outside perspective it looks like another good season,” Weides said. “We’ve been really consistent over the past 10 years at achieving 10-plus wins. We checked that box again and showed that consistency and had a decent finish in the GPAC. We try to find opportunities to enjoy the journey. It takes a little while to gain the right perspective after the season ends. You think about what you missed rather than what you had. We truly came into this season believing we could win a regular season title. Then when postseason started, we believed we could win the tournament title. We fell short of that. For us internally, there is some disappointment and hunger for next year. We’ll have to use this for motivation.”
Individually, All-GPAC honors went to Iker Casanova (second team), Moises Jacobo (second team), Carlos Orquiz (second team), Federico Simonetti (second team) and Garrett Perry (honorable mention). Both Casanova (center back) and Simonetti (goalkeeper) immediately earned starting roles as freshmen and were key components for a solid defensive team. In the midfield, Orquiz provided a high level of play while Jacobo and Perry were two of the team’s most dangerous attackers. With two goals during the spring, Shaddick emerged as the team’s top goal scorer with six goals. Six Bulldogs produced four or more goals. As an outside back, João Pedro Veríssimo was a rock and started all 18 games after having missed most of the 2019 season due to injury.
It's likely none of the coaches or players associated with the team will ever forget the aforementioned GPAC quarterfinal clash. As the No. 5 seed, the Bulldogs were forced to play on the road. After 110 minutes of scoreless action in Orange City, a dramatic PK shootout ensued. Both teams converted their first nine PK attempts before Concordia finally misfired. It looked like an 11th round of PK’s would be needed, but the official ruled that the Bulldog keeper left his line too early and granted a retake. The Red Raiders celebrated a controversial PK shootout triumph soon after that judgement.
“It’s a tough way to not only end a game, but end a season,” Weides said. “We really don’t get a chance to experience (PK shootouts) much at all. I believe it’s only the third time in our program’s history. It’s a moment where you know your team’s hurting. We felt like we were a team that really had more and believed in our team goals. We felt like we were capable and had the ability to go out and win a GPAC title and go to nationals. It’s painful when you fall short of it. It was a classic college playoff game with a lot of physical play.”
A large portion of the most-called-upon players will return for the fall of 2021. It’s hopeful that things will look much the way they did prior to 2020. Said Weides, “We were able to play a full regular season and have playoffs. Our guys worked hard to have those opportunities, and there were a lot of people at Concordia that helped make that happen.”