Stevens: Fishbein's Lobos Have The Same Look -- Ranked or Unranked
Oct. 26, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer - At The Lobo Soccer Complex
Friday: 7 p.m., Sacramento State at New Mexico Lobos
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If you think there is something special about trotting over to the Lobo Soccer Complex Friday or Sunday to watch Jeremy Fishbein's No. 1 ranked Lobos, you really haven't been paying attention.
It's always a pretty special deal to watch Fishbein's Lobos do their thing on the pitch. They play hard, intense, high-level soccer every year -- ranked or unranked.
The only real difference between the Lobos of this season and Fishbein's teams of the past is that this year's squad is ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation - and is undefeated. Sure, the rankings validates excellence, but for those paying attention that validation was not necessary.
Fishbein's program has been validated year after year after year.
Still, being No. 1 is a neat thing. How often can you cross a few major streets and watch the No. 1 team in the nation play soccer? It's even a neater thing because that No. 1 team is at the University of New Mexico and these Lobos plans to hold on to that ranking as long as possible.
"We've been doing the same thing every year," said Fishbein, in his 10th season at UNM. "We're competitive no matter who we have played in any year. When the ball rolls out, we expect to win.
"To 99.9 percent of the people out there, you are evaluated on your wins and losses. But we're really not doing anything much different than in the past."
Well, except maybe finishing.
The Lobos of 2010 (or 2009 or 2008) probably stacked up well against the Lobos of 2011. Really, the talent level to the untrained eye probably isn't any better. These current Lobos have just clicked at a higher level and they are putting the ball into the net. That takes a lot of pressure off a defense and turns ties and losses into wins.
The Lobos have two scoring stars in Blake Smith (eight goals) and Devon Sandoval (seven goals), but UNM has received four goals apiece from Carson Baldinger, Kyle Venter and Giovanni Rollie. James Rogers has kicked in three goals and Lance Rozeboom has bent the net twice.
You have balanced scoring like this and it's difficult for defenses to overplay your top scorers. The Lobos also are excellent in the midfield and nasty on the backside. That's why they are undefeated - and ranked No. 1. This is a complete team.
"We have a great group of guys and it's all 23 players," said Fishbein. "The training environment is phenomenal every day."
The Lobos' gaudy 13-0-2 mark includes nine straight wins that helped push them into the No. 1 spot in Top Drawer's weekly Top 25 and No. 2 behind Maryland in the Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
This is neat stuff. It's not that the Lobos needed to be placed on the NCAA soccer map, but a little national juice can't hurt a team from New Mexico, even if that team was the 2005 national runners-up.
"For anybody else, anywhere in the country, "Where's New Mexico?'" said Fish. "It (No. 1 ranking) adds legitimacy. There is a reality to that. When you are getting that kind of recognition, it's easier to recruit. It opens guys' eyes."
Fishbein has been luring in top talent for years and New Mexico's reputation for honest-effort soccer goes coast-to-coast. Fishbein also calls the national polls a popularity contest, but that comment needs a footnote, too.
You don't win popularity contests from East Coast and West Coast voters when you are New Mexico. If you are a Lobo, you earn your ranking. These Lobos have earned their pub and their strut. Heck, they are the only undefeated team left in D-I soccer and that mark has been carved out against good competition.
"We're a very good team, but how can you determine who is the best team (in a poll)? You can't," said Fish. "I'd say we're one of the top 10 or 15 teams. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to play a few of the others in the NCAAs and find out how we really stack up."
The reality of the national polls is that they are a fair measurement of accomplishment and talent. They aren't an exact science, but they are close.
UNM is undefeated. UNM has played good competition. UNM is talented. But the reality of the rankings is that they don't mean anything on the fields of competition - especially in soccer. Soccer is an unpredictable game and even though a team can forge its own good or bad luck, it's not always a game that favors the superior team.
What Fishbein wants to grasp from his Lobos' national ranking is the home-field advantage in postseason play.
"Our goal going into the season was to get an (NCAA) game or two at home," said Fishbein. "That's what we are shooting for. We think we are better at home and that's something we want to give the people of Albuquerque. We want to let them see us play here well into November."
That probably will happen. For now, for this weekend, you can see the No. 1 Lobos play at 7 p.m. vs. Sacramento State and at 1 p.m. Sunday vs. San Jose State. The Lobos will have a big target on their backs. Hey, who doesn't want to beat No. 1? It's like gunning down the fastest draw in the West.
"We haven't been beaten. We must be pretty decent and we must be doing something right," said Fishben. "Let's go out and do it Friday night.
"We have big games ahead of us and we look for challenges in each one of our opponents. They are coming in here with nothing to lose. When you are playing a ranked team, you can play a little carefree and go for it. We are a big game for them. We are getting their best."
Sacramento State and San Jose State will get the Lobos' best, too. That's just what you get from the Lobos - ranked or unranked, this year or last year or next year.