Aug 20, 2013
Lobo Men's Soccer - 2013 Season Preview
Thursday: 7 p.m., Lobos at Air Force (exhibition)
Saturday: 7 p.m., Lobos at Denver (exhibition)
Friday - Aug 30: 7 p.m., Villanova at Lobos
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The staple of Jeremy Fishbein's program, the foundation that makes these Lobos excel on the pitch, can be summed up in two words: The program.
Fishbein and his Lobos will take to the field in 2013 with aspects, qualities and drive that are pretty much exactly what they have been in the past.
These Lobos are excellent soccer players and fine-tuned by the drive to put in the blue-collar hours needed to be excellent. They also are a product of tradition. This is one of the top men's soccer programs in the nation and the Lobos enter the season with a No. 11 ranking on their backs.
Of course, there is one obvious difference between the 2013 Lobos and the 2012 Lobos and the other nine Lobo teams that have pushed their way into the NCAA College Cup.
The pieces of the puzzle have shifted.
"We have an idea of the way we like to play, but with the new personnel we have, different guys in different roles, we need to hone in on our identity," said Kyle Venter, an obvious leader and a key cog in the success of 2013. "We have to make sure we know who we are and how we play."
The Fishbein Lobos will play pretty much the way Fishbein Lobos play: hard, aggressive, confident, motivated and skillful.
They will be targeted because they are very good and because other teams know it.
"I don't have any concerns," said Fishbein. "Of course there are always unknowns. It's a new team with new leadership, but we have a lot of veteran players who know what it takes to be successful. It's a real cohesive group. I feel good about the team."
One of those apparent unknowns is who is going to replace the 56 points provided last season by the lost duo of Devon Sandoval (15 goals) and Blake Smith (13 assists).
"We are bringing in exciting players who have other attributes. We'll have a lot of pieces," said Fishbein. "We have a lot of firepower. We have a lot of guys who can do different things. It will be game-to-game. If guys find their form and are scoring goals, those guys are going to stay out on the field."
The Lobos do return some established scorers. James Rogers (eight goals), Ben McKendry (seven goals) and Michael Calderon (eight assists) are the top returning producers up front. Venter scored a goal in UNM's 3-1 exhibition win over Grand Canyon, but two freshmen, Niko Hansen and James Wypych, also reached the net.
"I'm not worried how we're going to score goals," said Venter. "We have a lot of firepower, a lot of quick guys, fast guys, guys who can shoot, finish, very good players."
Fishbein has some young Lobos to throw in the mix and that's the challenge every year for every soccer coach: The search for combinations, substitution patterns - chemistry.
It is the stuff that scores goals and prevents the other guys from scoring goals. It's also the stuff that leads to dream seasons.
For sure, Fishbein has the talent and the depth. "We can fill every position with somebody coming off the bench," he said. "We are not relying on one player. This is a team with a lot of depth. We'll be able to adapt to different teams and different styles of play."
The Lobo attack lost some veteran leadership up front, but there is a solid sprinkling of experience in the front, middle and back. Michael Kafari and Michael Calderon will anchor the middle with Kyle Venter and Mathew Gibbons providing experience and leadership in the defensive backfield.
The net should be well tended by senior Michael Lisch, a transfer from Wake Forest, and junior Patrick Poblete. "Those two are going to really battle for the position," said Fish. "It will be healthy." The two keepers each got a half of playing time against Grand Canyon. UNM plays two exhibition matches this week -- at Air Force on Thursday and at Denver on Saturday.
The Lobos are coming off a 17-4-1 campaign in 2012 that ended in a Sweet 16 loss at UConn. "We're not going to dwell on it. It's going to make us better," said Fishbein of that loss. "It really doesn't do us much good to predict things or make assumptions."
The Lobos move from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation where they posted a 91-39-11 record in 17 seasons. UNM won 10 regular-season or tournament titles in the MPSF. The Lobos will play in Conference USA this season where the competition will take a jump up.
"Every game is a big game," said Fishbein. "You can't relax. There are a lot of big-time teams. It's not going to be a two-horse race."
Said Michael Kafari: "We have to find the right motivation and the right formula to beat every team,"
The Lobos lost 10 players (five starters) from 2012 and return 16 (six starters). There are 10 first-year Lobos on the 2013 roster.
"I would say we are probably going to be better than last year," said Michael Calderon. "I feel we have a stronger mentality this year."
Fishbein said he's not making any predictions as to where his Lobos will end in the C-USA race, but there is one prediction that Fish will make: "We're going to make it pretty hard for somebody to beat us."
Venter is more willing to lay his goals on the line by saying the Lobos will shoot for a conference title, a top-eight seed and compete for a national championship.
"There aren't going to be many teams that beat us and every time we step on the field we expect to win," said Fishbein. "That's a good feeling to have players with that kind of confidence. It's a proud group."