The 2021 season didn’t sit well with the Concordia Men’s Soccer program. The Bulldogs fell short of the 10-win mark for the first time since 2010 while often losing games by the slightest of margins. The talent was there, Head Coach Jason Weides felt confident in that. Something was just a bit off, so Weides and his team went to work on fixing it. The Bulldogs became a grittier team and one determined to come out on the winning side in those tight and physical battles.
The 2022 squad arrived in August and appeared to pinpoint why they failed in certain areas the previous fall. Said senior leader Isaiah Shaddick prior to the start of the 2022 season, “We came together as a team and with Coach Weides and decided there needs to be something culturally within the team that we need to change. We came together and created a set of rules that we have as a team to help lead us to that goal of being successful. We’re implementing it and we’re holding each other accountable.”
The lessons learned from 2021 may have been painful, but perhaps necessary for the program to reach the highs it experienced on Nov. 11, 2022. As temperatures dipped well below freezing that night in Hastings, Neb., Concordia celebrated long after the sound of the thud that came from Federico Simonetti clinching victory with the penalty kick save. A dawgpile ensued in reaction to a truly gritty GPAC tournament championship winning performance. The Bulldogs had rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime on the home turf of the archnemesis Broncos.
From 11 different countries, these Bulldogs came together as a group and accomplished their goals. A more intentional focus on team chemistry and togetherness became a factor in pushing Concordia to the national tournament for the first time since 2015. Members of the team keep coming back to this one word – family.
Said Weides at the conclusion of the season, “One of our captains highlighted this, and several other guys touched on it, this really is a family. Above wins and losses, this team really cares for each other. It’s a really fun group and we’re excited to continue to celebrate this team tomorrow, a year from now, 20 years from now and all the years to come. Had we won this game or lost it (at the national tournament), it doesn’t change this Bulldog family.”
The ’22 team finished at 15-3-3 overall as arguably the greatest side in program history. Along the way, Concordia dropped only one conference game, went undefeated at home (9-0-1) and put together a 12-game unbeaten streak (9-0-3) before the NAIA National Championship first round loss to ninth-ranked Keiser University (Fla.). The Bulldogs outscored their opponents by a combined total of 51-21 while getting a major boost from transfer Dominic Abdel-Ahad, who put away a team high 12 goals.
There may not have been a more important player to the team’s success than Carlos Orquiz, who returned to the program for a fifth year in 2022. He couldn’t have imagined missing out on this run and an extra year of hanging out with the guys. As a cherry on top, Orquiz broke school records for assists in a season (12) and for a career (21).
Said Orquiz, “From day one, that was our goal to win GPAC. The way we accomplished it adds an important piece to it with how we came back from a 2-0 score. We kept fighting through that challenge as a team. In the end, it was a perfect ending. I don’t think if someone would have written it the way it came out to be, it wouldn’t be as perfect as it was. The whole night was a special moment for us, and we enjoyed it as a family.”
Added Weides, “It definitely was a special season. It was a fun group to work with and a team that was highly motivated to do great things. To get to 15 wins isn’t easy. It’s certainly one of the best teams in Concordia history. It was a really special and we had some individual and team records. It was really hard to see it end because I think this team had the mindset to get beyond just qualifying for nationals. The first time we made it felt like, ‘Hey, we made it. This is awesome.’ It was a great experience to be there, but I’m not sure we were that prepared to move on beyond the first round of nationals. This group was prepared and ready. We had plans to move on beyond that first round, but it was a really special group.”
An underrated moment in the season came on Sept. 24 when Concordia hosted Northwestern. The Bulldogs were coming off a mistake-riddled 4-3 loss at Dordt and were in danger of falling to 1-2 in conference play. More than 83 minutes passed with the Red Raiders hoping to see out a 1-0 lead. However, Ryan Wokutch emerged as the hero and struck for a goal apiece in the 84th and 87th minutes. The Bulldogs pulled it out and did not suffer another loss for almost two months.
A developing story throughout the fall, Weides put several goalkeepers to use. The presence of four capable starters at that position made for a “good problem” in the eyes of Weides. Three Bulldogs made at least three starts at the position: Gabriel Mendoza (11), Federico Simonetti (seven) and Callum Goldsmith (three). Mendoza won the job late in the season and went 7-1-2 with a .783 save percentage. Simonetti later basked in the glory of making the biggest save of the campaign.
It truly was a team effort. Eight Concordia players earned All-GPAC awards with first team honors going to Abdel-Ahad, Orquiz and Max Bisinger. In addition, second team accolades were earned by Martin Herrera, Matt Schultz, Isaiah Shaddick and Ryan Wokutch. It was also a fitting sixth and final season for João Pedro Veríssimo, who started 16 games while enjoying one of the healthiest years of his collegiate career. While alongside Bisinger in the backline, freshman Adrian Wambua made an immediate impact. Many others also contributed to a season that won’t soon be forgotten.
In the eyes of Weides, this team had the talent and the right mindset to make a run at nationals, but he isn’t going to let the first-round defeat overshadow what was a thrilling ride.
Said Weides, “I think we were right there. Out of the 21 games we played, 14 were decided by one goal and we were pretty successful in those games. We know what it’s like to grind it out. We were highly successful in those moments. Once you get to nationals, every team is really good. In those moments on the national stage, we have to trust in and believe in who we are. I think we did, but we have to be at our best. We’ve got to have those special moments. Against those top teams, there has to be some little moment like that. I think we’re close to taking that next step. In this upcoming season, it’s about taking that next step. This group got a taste of what it’s like. Once you have that taste, you’re better prepared the next time it comes around.”
Career win No. 150 came in 2022 for Weides, who is already looking ahead to his 16th season. The 2023 team will be tasked with trying to follow up the championship 2022 season.
“I think we’ll have a good group back,” Weides said. “We do lose some impactful players, but we have some guys who have shown to develop really well and who took big steps from last year to this year. We have others we expect to take some big steps forward into the next year as well. Some guys are waiting in the wings for their opportunity. We’re going to continue to recruit and bring on players who want to help us take that next step. We want to win games not just within the GPAC but games against top teams in the nation. That’s where this program aspires to be. I think we have a pretty good nucleus coming back.”