by Okay Karan
It was a cold and windy day when North Park Men’s Soccer defeated St. Thomas and effectively advanced to the NCAA Final Four set to take place in North Carolina. The ongoing season has marked several historical achievements by the team and it stands as the best season in North Park school history for Men’s soccer. Thus far the team stands as CCIW Champions, CCIW Tournament Champions, and also came out victorious against rival teams like Wheaton College and UChicago during the regular season. Standing with a record of 19-1-1 and currently preparing for the upcoming NCAA Final Four, I decided to sit down with three of the players that have been instrumental in the historic season.
#10 Carel Kawele-Kuzona
Position: Striker · Class: Senior · From: Stockholm, Sweden
#15 Jason Gonzalez
Position: Wing Back · Class: Senior · From: Chicago, Illinois
#17 Matias Warp
Position: Defender/Midfielder · Class: Senior · From: Svelvik, Norway
All players were selected into CCIW First Team All-Conference.
Tell us about yourself, how did your soccer career start, where have you played before North Park?
Carel Kawele-Kuzona: I actually never planned on playing soccer for a club team; I was mostly playing in school with my friends during breaks. One time one of the teachers at my school came up to me and wanted me to practice with his youth club team. I decided to try it and eventually got the chance to train for one of the best youth academies in Sweden, since then my career just went upwards.
Jason Gonzalez: My career started young, my dad had me playing at age 3. My dad was a huge influence in my life, as far as soccer he always had me training with kids older than me and taught me to train individually as well. I played club and high school for Main West High School and Raiders FC. While playing nationals for my club team I got to travel all over the nation and that’s when I got in contact with North Park.
Matias Warp: I started playing soccer at the club level by age 16 during my high school years. At age 18 I was able to transfer to the youth team of Mjøndalen IF, at the time they were playing in the second-tier division of Norwegian soccer. I played both for the youth team and the reserves before managing to train and play a few games with the first team. During my final season in Norway, I tore my ACL and that summer I decided I wanted a change and pursued playing college soccer in the United States.
Which player(s) influenced your playing style?
Carel Kawele-Kuzona: I would say Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Zinedine Zidane. They were truly great players and I’ve always tried to conduct my playing style after those players.
Jason Gonzalez: It’s hard to believe, but Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors had a huge influence on me. Watching him play for Davidson, and seeing him go from being the underdog to where he is now which is a two time MVP, it’s super motivational. He definitely pushed me to strive to be better and whenever I felt like giving up he just gave me the strength to keep going.
Matias Warp: Roberto Carlos! The shots, the aggressiveness, the speed.
What’s the biggest key to North Park’s success this season?
Carel Kawele-Kuzona: The biggest key is our work rate; we really work hard and have good team chemistry. I can say in the most humble way I can that I believe we work harder than our opponents. Winning all of those games is because of our discipline in incorporating the game plan the coaches wants us to play. It has been essential to our success.
Jason Gonzalez: I believe it is our hard work and dedication. We have a young team combined with a strong number of seniors. The combination of the under class-men wanting to be better than the upper class is amazing. It makes each player better on and off the court. There are times we get so heated at practice, but it’s only because we have that desire to win and to be the best.
Matias Warp: That we are playing like a team. Teamwork is key and that was something we were lacking in past seasons where we had more individual shows.
The current goal of the season has to be to win it all, how does that feel?
Carel Kawele-Kuzona: It feels like a challenge that we can take on with no doubt. We have proved that we are the best in our conference and that we are one of the best teams in the nation. It just feels right, we are where we are supposed to be and we are only going to elevate going forward. We deserve to win it all!
Jason Gonzalez: It’s honestly still very crazy to believe. We knew from the beginning we had a very strong team, and now just 3 games away from taking the whole thing. It’s still shocking to me, but just extremely blessed to be a part of this amazing team of brothers.
Matias Warp: It’s about time. It feels good, North Park deserves to be here, we should have been here before, but now that we are here it feels great.
One piece of advice to future soccer squads of North Park Athletics?
Carel Kawele-Kuzona: Work hard together! Get that mindset of seeing yourselves as champions even in the beginning and get to work. If you can’t see yourselves becoming champions then you’re just settling for mediocrity and that’s not what North Park Soccer is about.
Jason Gonzalez: One piece of advice I give to future North Park squads is just never stop grinding. 4 years of college goes by so quick. If you think about it, it’s only 4 years to just give your blood, sweat and tears onto that field. Never stop giving your all no matter what, and lastly just enjoy it. The brothers I have around me and have known from this program and past soccer programs are just amazing. I know I have met long time friends on this squad and just enjoy every moment of it.
Matias Warp: Never only think about your individual game. Soccer is very much a team sport and in order to gain success you have to play as a team. It won’t matter how fast, technical or strong you are, if you don’t play well as a team none of it will matter.
The season has been a showcase of teamwork, dedication, and offensive soccer by the Vikings. One of the main changes from this season to past seasons is the emphasis of “on-the-ground” passing styles as the key behind the build-up play. I personally believe that several seasons were wasted with ineffective tactics in the build-up play and a lack of communication specifically between the midfield and offense. I don’t know if the coaches or the players are behind this change in gameplay - perhaps it is both - but nonetheless it has elevated this team in a tremendous way. North Park has had trouble with utilizing its squad potential in past seasons as it had several high quality players that failed to find their place in the gameplan. This season however has seen a remarkable change in that aspect as a majority of the plays are led through short passes in the midfield and with the wingers giving standout performances this has engaged them in the build-up play in a way that hasn’t been seen in past seasons. This season also shows every player sticking to their role in the field which is essential to a functioning team. Every player is out to perfect their role to the best of their ability, this is important as previous seasons had several players trying to play defense, offense, wing and midfield at the same time. Another major key to the success of the Vikings is the bench. Is it too much to say that this bench might be the best in North Park history? I think not. College soccer is different from professional soccer and allows for far more substitutions and gives way for several changes. This puts large importance on a quality bench and this has been something that has plagued North Park in the past. Today the bench is not far off from the starting team and several sitting players seem equally as applicable for the starting-11 as others. It speaks levels for the quality that this team possesses and the potential for upcoming seasons.
Editorial note: After these interviews were conducted, the Vikings men’s soccer team went on to win their first Final Four matchup and placed second in the nation in their final game against Messiah College.