New Mexico Men’s Soccer – at the NCAA College Cup -- Philadelphia
Who: New Mexico Lobos (14-5-2) vs. Notre Dame (15-1-6); Maryland (16-3-5) vs. Virginia (13-5-5)
When/Where: 3 p.m./5:30 p.m. (MT) – PPL Park (18,500) -- Philadelphia
Lobos On The Air: ESPNU (TV); 101.7-FM The TEAM.
GoLobos.com: Live Stats, Twitter (@LoboMensSoccer), Game Story, LoboTV
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
On a winter-chilled field in Philadelphia, the New Mexico Lobos again chase history. They are not alone in that quest for a program-first national title. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish also seeks history at the 2013 College Cup.
For Maryland and Virginia, it’s “been there, done that,” but they want to do it again. Maryland is looking for its fourth NCAA crown and Virginia eyes its seventh title.
It’s a soccer war of survival between the best of the best to produce a last-man-standing finish.
“I think it’s naive for any of the teams to say, “we’re a better team,” said Lobo Coach Jeremy Fishbein. “There are going to be a few moments in the game where guys are going to get opportunities to do something special and it’s who takes those.
“It’s a game of inches at this point.”
So far, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Maryland and Virginia have taken advantage of opportunities better than anyone else. They have won the battle of inches, but it all start new on Friday.
On paper, the New Mexico Lobos have to like their position heading toward Notre Dame in a national semifinal. The Lobos are underdogs. The No. 3 seed Notre Dame with its gaudy 15-1-6 record is favored.
“We kind of like having that chip on our shoulder,” said Fishbein.
The chip might be there symbolically, but it really isn’t very big because the Fishbein Lobos (14-5-2) have a well-earned swagger. They head to Philadelphia confident that they can beat any team in the nation. The Fighting Irish, Maryland and Virginia think the same thing – and all four teams are correct.
But only one team will do it in Philly. Only one team will turn inches and opportunities into a national title.
“There is no reason to doubt these guys, that’s for sure,” said Fishbein of his Lobos. “Our guys are battle tested. They expected to be in the Final Four. It’s going to be a fantastic game.”
The Fighting Irish enter their first ever College Cup. New Mexico went in 2005 to finish second to Maryland.
“I remember the disappointment in going so far but missing out on bringing back the trophy,” said Lobo assistant Brandon Moss, who played on the 2005 national runners-up. “But I also remember the ride, the journey, was such a rewarding thing knowing what we did for New Mexico soccer, for our school, for our city and for the state.”
The Lobos’ ride in 2013 has been a rewarding one, too, and a reflection on the resolve of this team. The Lobos were questioning themselves after dropping three straight games on Lobo Field in late September. These Lobos rallied to win the Conference USA title and earn an NCAA bye followed by a home game and a win at No. 2 seed Washington.
The Lobos are playing well. Ditto for the Irish. Notre Dame is 7-0-1 over the past eight games, outscoring their opponents 21-7 over that span. In those eight matches, the Irish have trailed for just 1:52.
The Irish are similar to UNM in fielding a rock-solid defense complemented by an aggressive attack. Coach Bobby Clark has led Notre Dame into NCAA play in 12 of his 13 seasons with the Irish. Notre Dame was the tourney’s top seed a year ago but lost to eventual champion Indiana in double-overtime in the Round of 16.
Notre Dame has been hot of late in reaching the scoreboard. They have scored 10 goals in their three NCAA wins. Harrison Shipp and Patrick Hodan each have three NCAA tournament goals. Hodan has scored in five straight games and has nine goals on the year. Shipp was the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. He has 12 goals and eight assists going into the New Mexico game.
“This is a pretty wide open team with great attacking players,” said Fishbein of No. 3 seed Notre Dame, the highest seed in Philadelphia.
The Irish net is protected by senior keeper Patrick Wall, who has a 0.73 goals-against average and nine shutouts. Wall is 24-2-6 in front of the net.
Coach Fishbein says, “Defense wins championships,” and the Irish have a wall in front of Wall. They return their starting defense from 2012: three seniors (Grant Van De Casteele, Andrew O’Malley and Luke Mishu) and a junior (Max Lachowecki. The Irish boast a 28-2-6 record over two years when that backline starts a game.
The Lobos are led up front by James Rogers and Niko Hansen each with seven goals. Michael Calderon has six goals and Ben McKendry has five. The Lobos have one of the top soccer players in the nation keying the defense in Kyle Venter. Michael Lisch guards the net with a 0.79 goals-against average.
Notre Dame has scored 43 goals this season and UNM has 35. The Lobos have given up 18 goals and the Irish have yielded 17. UNM has given up 148 shots and Notre Dame has allowed 214 shots.
“It’s a special thing,” Fishbein said of advancing to the College Cup. “We’re excited. We’re ready. We’re healthy. I feel we’re in a very good place.”