New Mexico Men’s Soccer – at the NCAA College Cup
Who: New Mexico Lobos (14-5-2) vs. Notre Dame (15-1-6)
When/Where: 3 p.m. (MT), Friday (Dec. 13) – PPL Park (18,500) -- Philadelphia
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
There are words to describe Jerry Fishbein’s Final Four bound Lobos – elite, special, exceptional -- that are not really exclusive to his 2013 team.
The words also describe the New Mexico men’s soccer program, other Fishbein teams, and even apply to this special coach who once again has his Lobos knocking on the door to an NCAA national championship.
There is no denying that Fishbein’s 2013 Lobos deserve extra credit, extra attention and extra praise for what they have done. A Final Four appearance in a tournament format is a door no other Lobo program has opened. The storied Lobo men’s basketball team has yet to crack open a Sweet 16 door. Fishbein has done it three years in a row.
This is a special moment for New Mexico athletics. It is a special moment for any athletic program or team.
It’s not easy to reach a Final Four in a tournament format that really starts in the regular season when teams try to whittle each other down in the race for postseason glory. The NCAA lists 198 teams in its men’s soccer statistics. There are only four left standing. This is exclusive company; the best of the best.
Fishbein has opened that Final Four door twice and in 2005 played in the NCAA National Championship game, losing to Maryland. His Lobos are one of only three teams in the entire nation which have marched into the Sweet 16 in each of the past three seasons.
And this weekend the Lobos will try to bring home the University of New Mexico’s second national title. The Lobo ski team won an NCAA crown in 2004 beating out 22 other teams at the national finals.
“You can’t help but enjoy it,” said Fishbein. “It’s a special experience. You would love everyone who has played for you or worked with you to experience something like this.”
That brings up a point that needs to be made: There were many, many Fishbein teams good enough to reach a Final Four. Just go back a single season. The 2012 Lobos included the core of Fishbein’s 2013 team plus two of UNM’s top front-line players ever in Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith. Go back another season. The 2011 Lobos were ranked No. 1 in the nation and undefeated that season.
Those teams were good enough to reach the Final Four and probably good enough to win the national title. The 2012 team lost one road game the entire season – 2-1 at UConn in double overtime in the NCAA Sweet 16. The 2011 team never lost, but was bumped out of the NCAA playoffs in a shootout.
Soccer can be a cruel game in which cruel bounces, good luck or bad luck, can determine a winner or a loser. In UNM’s first NCAA win in this 2013 run, George Mason had four slide tackles narrowly miss the ball before UNM’s James Rogers smashed it home for a 1-0 win with about eight minutes left to play.
Soccer is a game of inches just as much as football. It also is a game of teasing moments and limited opportunities.
The inches have favored the 2013 Lobos for a lot of reasons. These Lobos are good. They are focused. They are confident front to back and incorporate rock-hard defense with bold, aggressive attacks. The Lobos are the only team in the NCAA College Cup that hasn’t surrendered a tournament goal. This is a reflection of Lobo talent front to back.
These Lobos play to win by playing to beat you. They don’t hunker down and hope that good things might come their way. They make good things happen.
They have been doing it ever since Fishbein took over the program 12 years ago.
“It means a lot to be in the Final Four,” said Fishbein. “It means a lot to this team but it also reflects on every Lobo who has contributed to this program.”
What the Lobos of 2013 are doing is special and the national title that teases them is within their grasp. There is probably no favorite in Philadelphia. But there will be one team that wins the moments, grasps the opportunities and finds the inches.
Three of the contenders come from the Atlantic Coast Conference: Notre Dame, Maryland and Virginia. Three of the wannabe national champions come from back there – back East.
The other one comes from a distant land West of the Mississippi. It is a finely-tuned, tradition-rich team of blue-collar Lobos maybe no better than a lot of other Lobo teams who failed to reach this special NCAA destination.
But they are in the Final Four with the common denominator that has made New Mexico soccer teams among the best in the nation for the past 12 seasons: