Stevens: New Mexico Lobo Men's Soccer -- 2011 Season Preview
Aug. 17, 2011
Albuquerque, N.M. --- To define the goals and expectations for Jeremy Fishbein's Lobos in 2011, maybe all you have to do is point at the jersey these Lobos wear.
"If it's not motivation enough to be wearing a UNM uniform and playing in front of thousands of people, you need to be playing somewhere else," said Fishbein, whose Lobos were 9-6-5 in 2010. "We have a tradition and that tradition has formed a foundation of expectation."
What all Lobo fans can expect from the Fishbein foundation is passion and honest effort on the pitch. They can also expect a whole lot of talent to be motivated at a high level. This also is Fishbein soccer.
The Lobos of 2011 are a team as talented as any team in America, but, like most soccer teams, it needs to capitalize on the "lucky" breaks and eliminate the "unlucky" ones.
Soccer can be a cruel game because it doesn't always reward the best team - or the best effort - with victory. But you can turn the scales of those factors in your favor by being very, very good. Fishbein's Lobos in 2011 have the chance to be very, very good.
"It's a hungry team that is excited about the season," said Fishbein, who has led his Lobos into the NCAA playoffs in eight of the past ten seasons and two straight. "But there is some uncertainty.
"We had a great team last year, but we didn't get some bounces and we didn't finish our chances. We have to put the ball in the back of the net this year. You don't score, you don't win. But we have every reason to be optimistic.
"Our players are guys who work hard to succeed. They have a lot of pride and a lot of confidence. They are hungry because the expectations of this program are very high and we have the type of players who should be successful in reaching those expectations."
THE LOBO ATTACK
To quickly put the Lobos' scoring potential into perspective, let's throw out a Fishbein quote: "We have everything you look for in scoring."
Yep, Fish's Lobos are loaded up front. He has a go-to player returning in Devon Sandoval and some first-year scorers who should add dynamics and versatility to UNM's attack.
Of course, there is that X factor - finishing! The Lobos scored 22 goals in 2010. The UNM enemy scored 20. UNM had 311 shots on goal compared to 200 for the other guys. UNM averaged only 1.1 goals per game. That lack of scoring puts a lot of pressure on the defense and doesn't leave much room for error or mental lapses.
That scoring punch needs to change in 2011. Fishbein thinks it will change.
"This should be the best attacking team we've had in years," said the 2005 National Coach of The Year. "We have guys who are dynamic in wide areas and we have great target players. We will play at a big-time pace and put a lot of pressure on defenders. We have a lot of attacking options."
The foundation of the UNM attack is four-pronged: center forward, center midfield and two wings. But the athleticism of these Lobos opens the door for scoring from other players and positions.
Sandoval, a strong-bodied attacker, is UNM's top returning scorer with three goals in 2010. He'll get scoring help from Blake Smith, Lawrence Robledo, Patrick Pacheco, Carson Baldinger, Javier Gomez, Giovanni Rollie, James Rogers and possibly Dustin Berg, who can attack or defend.
You can see Fishbein's challenge here: lots of talent, so who do you place on the field?
"We have great athletes and great versatility all over the field," he said. "Our challenge is to find the best combinations, but the talent is so balanced that everyone will play over the course of the season. It's nice as coaches to have the option of being able to mix things up. Now, we have to figure out the best mix."
THE LOBO MIDDLE
The forwards and strikers often get the glory and the headlines because they score the goals, but the midfield is the heart of a soccer team. If you want to compare UNM's mid to a quarterback running the show, then Fishbein has Peyton Manning and Tom Brady roaming the middle and controlling the flow.
"Michael and Lance are as good as anyone in the nation," said Fishbein. "And they have played together for three years. I think they are a strength for our team in terms of maturity and ability. They have a good chemistry and they are complemented by Michael Kafari.
"Michael came to us as an attacking player, but because of his tenacity and athletic attributes, we moved him to a center-mid role. It's a demanding position and we have three great ones there. If you can control that area, you usually win games."
The midfield puts a lot of demands on a soccer player and that player has to be versatile in skills and sharp in mind. They go forward and back. They attack and defend. They are the link between strikers and defenders and need to have a firm grasp on tactics.
They also can attack. Green and Rozeboom each had two goals in 2010. Green's scores came off 45 shots and Rozeboom launched 35 times. They both started all 20 games for UNM last year.
THE LOBO DEFENDERS
The trio of Green, Rozeboom and Kafari will be hard to unseat in the central-mid spot, but there is more room for competition with UNM's central defenders and outside defenders.
Fishbein says you can't win if you don't score. You also can't lose if you don't give up any goals. The chemistry formed on UNM's backside is a key to success in 2011, especially in games where offensive chances are not completed.
"We have to come together as a unit and finish our chances up front," said Fishbein. "But we also have a challenge to solidify our defense. We have to build some consistency back there."
The Lobos return Kyle Venter, who started 19 of 20 games in 2010. The Lobos add a talented newcomer in Josh Dye, a 6-foot-2 freshman out of La Cueva High who has the physical tools to compete right away at the D-I level. But there is an adjustment.
"Josh brings a lot of attributes to our team," said Fishbein. "It's a matter of how quickly he adjusts to the speed of play at this level and the overall athleticism."
The Lobo defenders on the outside also provide Fishbein with a lot of options. There is a lot of talent to weave into the defensive mix.
"We ask a lot of our outside backs," said Fishbein. "They have to be very good one-vs.-one, but they also have to have an attacking mindset. These are guys who get around and who make overlapping runs, get involved in the attack. You need dynamic players here."
Junior Levi Rossi is a versatile Lobo with the attributes to play either defender spots. Rossi also has striker skills which makes him a strong candidate for outside back. "He's a great player," said Fishbein. Other Lobos in the defensive mix include Giovanni Rollie, Casey Phillip, Riley McGovern and Matthew Gibbons.
THE LOBO KEEPER
"Victor is a great keeper and there was a fight last year between him and Justin," said Fishbein. "It's his fourth year here and he's played in some big games and has developed as a keeper and as a leader. We also have some strong keepers in Patrick Poblete and Javier Lane."
Rodriguez has put in his time behind Holmes and has yet to see extended action in the net - which usually makes you better. He had seven saves in 2010 and allowed two goals. He played 279 minutes to 1,637 minutes for Holmes.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.