Stevens: Lobo Men's Soccer -- 2012 Season Preview
Aug. 19, 2012
LOBOS OPEN AT UCLA: Will the real No. 2 team in the nation please stand up. That's kind of what will happen at 8 p.m. (MT) Friday in Los Angeles when the No. 2 ranked New Mexico Lobos visit the No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins. The Lobos were picked as College Soccer News' No. 2 preseason pick while UCLA was No. 2 in the NSCAA poll, which tabbed UNM as No. 6. The Lobos were picked to win the MPSF crown while UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 title.
"We get to open the season against one of the premier teams traditionally in the country in UCLA," said Lobo Coach Jeremy Fishbein. "Our guys will be ready. When you have a mature, hungry team like we have, I think we are at our best early season."
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer - 2012 Season Preview
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To say that Jeremy Fishbein's New Mexico Lobos might be better than the undefeated Lobos of 2011, but might post a less gaudy record, really isn't a contradiction.
It's simply a statement about soccer, a cruel game that doesn't always favor the better team. It's also a statement about the 2012 Lobos. They should be wonderful.
"I don't feel any pressure because this is such a good team with so many pieces," said senior striker Devon Sandoval. "I don't think we have any weaknesses.
"We are strong all around and the subs coming off the bench are very good. Our goal is to do better than we did last year. I think we came up short last year."
The Lobos rolled out an 18-0-4 season that ended in a shootout at South Florida. The Lobos lost two frontline players from last year in Michael Green and Lance Rozeboom. But UNM returns its top two scorers in Sandoval and Blake Smith and everybody else.
And that's not counting a handful of promising Lobo pups.
"Your goal every year is to be better," said Fishbein, in his 12th season at UNM. "But I don't think it's fair to compare yourself to something in the past. What we have is the potential to be great. But it's potential until we prove there is substance to it.
"We have a balanced crew from back to front. We have depth, maturity, athleticism and leadership."
Basically, the Lobos really can't find any weaknesses - not in personnel or in drive. The Lobos are talented, skilled and hungry to advance deeper into the NCAA Tournament.
"At the same time last year, I said that this team was going to win a national championship and we got pretty darn close," said Smith. "I think we have the potential to be great again and hopefully better."
Good luck and bad luck are two twins of fate that can cast a heavy toll on soccer. The Lobos were undefeated in 2011 because they were good, prepared and opportunistic. It's probably fair to say they had more good luck on their side than bad luck. Well, until the NCAA draw.
The No. 1 team in the nation in 2011 was given a seed that put them on the road for their second game. "It's difficult to win an NCAA game on the road," said Fishbein. "Our goal is to win the conference championship and our goal is to play some NCAA games at home." There is no reason these Lobos shouldn't do that. They were picked to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title and have dotted Top 10 lists including sliding into the No. 2 preseason slot of College Soccer News. The Lobos have a challenging schedule including a season-opening visit at UCLA.
The Lobos lost two starters, but return nine. The Lobos lost two letter winners, but return 19. That's depth. Fishbein also has seven newcomers and two returning redshirts. Is there a problem having so much talented depth?
"Our biggest challenge is staying unified, staying together, because guys aren't all going to be thrilled with their playing time," said Fishbein. "When you have the depth that we have there are going to be great players not playing the minutes they want to play.
"If everybody on our team is committed to making us better, we will be very, very good and very hard to beat."
If you look at the number of returning letter winners and the open slots created by the loss of Green and Rozeboom, that means 19 letter winners are competing for 11 slots. That doesn't include the non-letter winners and incoming freshmen. Yes, Fishbein is loaded in 2012.
The scariest thing about losing Green and Rozeboom is that they were both extremely talented leaders in the midfield.
The Lobos scored 47 goals in 2011 and lost only five of those goals with the departure of Green and Rozeboom. Smith scored 10 goals last year, Sandoval had eight and Carson Baldinger had five as did Kyle Venter.
The Lobos return 14 players who played in at least 13 games in 2011. UNM returns 11 players who played at least 500 minutes.
A few returning players who logged a lot of minutes in 2011 include keeper Victor Rodriguez (2012 minutes), Travis Campbell (1847), James Rogers (1316), Michael Kafari (1185), Venter (2030), Mathew Gibbons (1969), Levi Rossi (1885), Sandoval (1597), Carson Baldinger (628), Adrian Mora Delgado (533) and Smith (1795).
"The outlook is good," said Fishbein. "I'm real excited about this team, but it's a new team. There is new leadership, new guys, new roles and we brought in some new players we feel can impact the team.
"The goal very game is to play up to our ability. We feel we have the personnel where every time we step onto the field that if we play up to our potential, we'll be the better team."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.