Aug. 12, 2011
Albuquerque, N.M. --- "There are no boundaries to making this program successful."
That's always been the mentality of Lobo men's soccer head coach, Jeremy Fishbein. While the program strives first and foremost to draw talent from the state of New Mexico, the coaching staff has a no-holds-bars policy when it comes to regional, national and even international recruiting.
Another policy that the Lobo program lives by is building bridges between players who might otherwise just consider one another rivals. One of the goals of their annual Elite Camp is to round up young men with a flair for the game of soccer from all across the country, and facilitate friendships amongst them and their teammates.
And the 2011 roster undoubtedly adheres to both of those policies.
The roster - which includes two international freshmen in Adrian Mora Delgado of Alajuela, Costa Rica and Mathew Gibbons of Rotorua, New Zealand - clearly demonstrates the program's tenacity in recruiting overseas. But it also showcases, perhaps a bit more subtly, the inherent ability that New Mexico seems to have for turning rivalries into friendships.
Both members of their respective U-17 national teams, Gibbons and Delgado went faced off against one another in the first round of the 2009 Nigerian World Cup in Nigeria, not knowing one another, and clearly not knowing that one day they'd both find a home in New Mexico with the Lobos.
Delgado played 11 years with Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, helping his U-13, U-15 and U-17 teams to UNOFUT Tournament Champion titles. He played in multiple tournaments with the Costa Rican National Team in addition to the '09 Cup, during which he faced Gibbons in game one of pool play. While Costa Rica shouldered 4-2 and 4-3 losses to Turkey and Burkina Faso respectively, they held New Zealand to a one-all tie at the end of the match.
Now that the two are teammates, it seems somewhat fitting that the contest culminated in a 1-1 tie, although a decisive winner may have made for some friendly intersquad competition between the two. But the tie score is just the beginning of the similar experiences that the two players had in Nigeria, primarily off the pitch.
Gibbons, who hails from Rotorau, New Zealand, had a slightly different on-field experience, as the New Zealand national team tied both Turkey and Burkina Faso before advancing into the second round of the tournament to face host team Nigeria in an unfortunate 5-0 loss. But both players agree that their off-field experiences were the same - and changed them for the better.
"It was a great experience, you know being in the World Cup is like the highest goal you can reach in soccer, so it was just amazing to represent my country," Delgado said. "But Nigeria was kind of sad. I saw the conditions that they [Nigerians] live in. They don't have portable water, they don't have electricity, so at night, everything is completely dark.
"In some ways, the World Cup was kind of happiness for them," he continued. "It was like a dream come true for them. It made me appreciate all of the things I had in Costa Rica."
Gibbons agreed in all respects.
"I would say the fans in Nigeria were what made my experience the most memorable," he said. "The locals went crazy, we had like 20,000 plus at our games, just packed out stadiums, and even when our buses would just drive through the city, we had kids chasing after us like we were national heroes or something."
Gibbons also enjoyed the opportunity to match up against the best talent from around the world in his age bracket, which is something that the Lobo Elite Camp aims to accomplish on a smaller scale.
"It [the World Cup] gave us an idea of where the rest of the world is at, especially people our age," he explained. "You see international pros on TV and stuff, but to see real players our age from around the world let us gauge where we were at."
Having had the experience of playing in the World Cup immediately gives the two new teammates a point of commonality, but being from different parts of the world allows the two to relate to one another in a different type of way.
"It's nice to meet another guy who has a different culture, different foods and different traditions, it's nice to have him here," Delgado admitted.
"It's hard to come into a new place with a group of players who have been together for awhile," Gibbons added. "But it's nice to have someone who's in a similar situation also joining up this year."
Bringing in two international players who have World Cup experience speaks volumes for the Lobo program in and of itself. But the fact that the program has once again lived up to its reputation of building bridges between players just provides more testament to the fact that UNM is one of the most unique athletic institutions in the country.