Sept. 12, 2008
What: Nike Invitational
Where: UNM Soccer Complex
Friday (men): Lobos vs. Akron, 7:30 p.m.; Cal Poly vs. Missouri, 2:30 p.m.
Friday (women): Lobos vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 5:30 p.m.; UNLV vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, noon.
Sunday (men): Lobos vs. Cal Poly, 5:30 p.m.; Akron vs. Missouri, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday (women): Lobos vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, 3 p.m.; UNLV vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 10 a.m.
Tickets: $5 adults, $4 seniors (55+), Youth (18-under)
By Richard Stevens Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobos soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein finds himself in a quandary of sorts. In order to make his Lobos happy tonight in the Nike Invitational against the Akron Zips, Fishbein might have to make a few Lobos unhappy.
You see, in order to beat the No. 2-ranked team in NCAA soccer, Fishbein might have to abandon his attempts to get as many University of New Mexico players onto the field as possible.
To beat the Zips, Fishbein just might have to find a smaller group of Lobos that produces a winning combination of chemistry, talent and experience.
"We have to make some big decisions, as a coaching staff, who to go with," said Fishbein. "The guys who are good every day in games, in training, are starting to rise. But these guys all expect to play. We're going to have some unhappy people, that's for sure.
"But anytime you have a competitive organization, that's going to happen and that's a good problem, that people feel they should be on the field."
Fishbein has repeatedly said the depth on his 2008 Lobos is a major strength and that appears to be a truth. But Fishbein also says using that depth and evaluating all that talent hasn't necessarily placed the best UNM team on the field and "that might be a negative."
What Fishbein hopes to find against the Zips is a unit of Lobos who mesh as productive team. He also is seeking a Lobo team with a little more fight in the dog. The Lobos looked just as talented as Louisville Sunday in a 2-1 loss (2OT) to the Cardinals. But when it came to the battle in front of the net, to the toughness element, the Cards were a bit more nasty.
"I think our guys really see themselves as soccer players, as technical players, as attacking players, but you can't always play the beautiful game," said Fishbein. "Sometimes you have to be a little more direct, you have to get down-and-dirty. I think that's kind of been our message this week."
To beat the Zips tonight, and maybe Cal Poly on Sunday, the combination of Lobos that Fishbein seeks might need a lot of that beautiful stuff plus some of that nasty stuff.
The Lobos are looking at a great opportunity tonight in the Zips. The Lobos have slipped from the No. 21 spot into the No. 23 position and here comes the No. 2 team in the nation playing on the Lobos' home turf.
"This is our opportunity," said Fishbein. "There is no hiding. We are good enough. We expect to win every game we play and our guys are excited to get on the field."
The Nike Invitational begins today at noon with the UNLV women facing Fairleigh Dickinson followed at 2:30 p.m. by the Cal Poly men going at Missouri. The Lobos women battle Wisconsin-Milwaukee at 5:30 p.m. followed by the Lobos/Zips clash at 7:30 p.m. The Nike Invite concludes Sunday at the UNM Soccer Complex.
The Zips are the marquee team in the Nike Classic because of their ranking and their undefeated record of 3-0-1. Milwaukee-Wisconsin carries a No. 24 ranking on the women's side of the tourney and a Lobos win would help the UNM women, too. Each game this weekend will be available on All Access on GoLobos.com. GameTracker will also run for all eight contests.
Akron's three wins came over No. 3 Notre Dame (3-0), No. 15 West Virginia (1-0) and Cincinnati (2-1). The Zips tied No. 7 Indiana (0-0). The Lobos lost 2-1 to Notre Dame in exhibition action this year in Albuquerque. The Zip to watch is sophomore forward Steve Zakuani, the 2007 MAC Newcomer of the Year and 2008 Hermann Trophy candidate. Zakuani has three goals and two assists on the season.
Besides using the Zips as a possible boost in the national rankings, UNM also is looking at a revenge factor. The Zips pounded UNM 3-1 in Akron, Ohio last season in a season-opening match.
Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner.