Stevens: Fishbein's Lobos Have An International Flavor
July 18, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
A powerful message about the value of combining top-level athletics with a college education has always been out there for foreign athletes. These athletes are more than good enough to compete at the collegiate level, but they often need growth in order to go pro.
You have to give these athletes credit. They are passionate about their sport and don't want to hang up their cleats, skis, whatever. They also are smart enough to realize an education will carry them to a finish line that reaches years beyond athletics.
They make a bold, but wise step. They come to America. They go NCAA. They keep their dreams alive while tacking a college degree onto their resume.
The Lobo men's soccer team is heading toward its 2012 fall season with a handful of these foreign stars: three from New Zealand, two from Costa Rica and one from Canada.
It is a win-win situation for Jeremy Fishbein's Lobos and these international players as both sides have much to gain.
"The guys we get want to continue to play soccer at a high level, but they haven't gotten the big pro contracts," said Fishbein. "They realize that an education probably is what will feed their family down the road, but they all still have the dream of playing professional.
"They have faith that our program can help develop them as players. At the same time, they get a degree."
And at the same time - the Lobos pick up a lot of proven talent.
The Lobos' pipeline to New Zealand gained strength when Andrew Boyens came to UNM in 2004 to join the Lobos. He earned All-American status as a Lobo and has played pro ball from 2007 to 2012.
The New Zealand players on the Lobo roster this season are Mathew Gibbons, Joe Harris and Nik Robson. UNM also has Ben McKendry from Vancouver, B.C., while Michael Calderon and Adrian Mora Delgado are up from Costa Rica soil.
The foundation of a foreign pipeline can be seen in the recent Costa Rica catches. Fishbein said the door to landing Calderon was opened by UNM getting Mora Delgado.
Word of mouth is important in recruiting the foreign athletes. The Lobos who play for Fishbein at New Mexico pass on the good word that if you become a Lobo, you do things at a high level - the right way. You get better.
Of course, Fishbein's program also benefits from the foreign player.
"Foreign players bring certain characteristics that are basic to our program," said the Lobo coach. "They also bring a high level of passion for the sport. They typically are great players and great students.
"It's probably fair to say that some foreign players have a passion for the game at a different level because the sport is more entrenched in their culture. Some countries live soccer 24/7, but the U.S. is really the only country where you can combine high-level amateur soccer with an education."
There is another advantage to bringing in the foreign athlete. Often those athletes have played their sport at the international level with their national teams - which helps them get on the radar with college recruiters.
That's the case with Gibbons, Harris, Robson, McKendry, Calderon and Mora Delgado. They have played on their countries' national teams at various age groups. They have been trained and tested at an intense level.
"When you play for a national team, you are playing at a high level in an incredible environment," said Fishbein. "You go through a lot of training camps and you have performed against top talent in a pressure situation.
"When you play on a national team, you have credibility as far as your skills and talent level. That catches a coach's attention. But we are still selective about who we recruit."
It's important to Fishbein's program that he brings in players who buy into the "team first" philosophy. He doesn't mind bringing in the so-called "stars," but he doesn't want prima donnas. He also simply likes having an international flavor on his roster.
"I think having international players is great," said Fishbein. "It becomes part of the educational process of having your team being exposed to diversity. It can give your players a different perspective toward soccer and toward other cultures."
The Lobos also have a few other players with foreign backgrounds, but who played on American soil at an early age.
Victor Rodriguez was born in Mexico, but moved to the U.S. and played high school ball at Las Cruces High. James Rogers was born in Sierra Leone, but moved to Salt Lake City in 2004. Michael Kafari was born in Accra Ghana, but played high school soccer in Boise, Idaho.