Stevens: Fishbein's Lobos Want To Exit MPSF Play With A Title
Nov. 7, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer - Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament
When/Where: Thursday-Friday-Sunday - UNM Soccer Complex - Albuquerque
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The New Mexico Lobos' final shot at a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament title matters. It is important.
Then again - not so much.
The No. 9/10 ranked Lobos (15-3-0) are in an enviable position because their postseason bid to battle with the national big boys in the NCAA College Cup is a given. They are an NCAA lock.
Coach Jeremy Fishbein and his coaching crew once again have assembled one of the more dynamic teams in NCAA soccer. These Lobos are solid from front to back. They do not need the MPSF crown or the NCAA automatic bid that comes with that title.
But they still want it.
"I don't' think we are feeling the same pressure that we would if we knew we had to win this tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament," said Fishbein, in his 11th season at UNM. "That's a nice situation to be in.
"Of course, we want to win it and our guys are going to play hard. They want to finish out this run in the MPSF with a championship."
The Lobos are favored to do exactly that. They are the MPSF's only Top 25 team. They were the bully on the MPSF block for most of the season - well, accept when it came to Air Force which slapped the Lobos with two losses.
Still, the Lobos led the conference in goals, assists, points, goals-against average and shutouts.
But come Friday when the Lobos battle Denver, UNM will be looking at an opponent with its back against a possible season-ending loss. The other three teams left in this MPSF battle need to snatch the title and the NCAA automatic bid to assure a postseason spot.
That's a lot of motivation.
The Lobos have an interesting internal question to answer, too. Who will be the starting keeper in the postseason?
For sure, it will not be Victor Rodriguez, who has played 1,349:50 minutes this season. The UNM senior has been benched by the NCAA for the Lobos' first game in postseason play because of his involvement in a minor altercation in last year's NCAA loss to South Florida.
Here is Fishbein's dilemma:
"We have to make some decisions on how we are going to prepare the keeper, who is going to start the NCAA Tournament," said Fishbein. "We have some big decisions to make. You also have to be smart in terms of minutes and not fatiguing players.
"We need to play two goal keepers. We want to win this tournament, but most importantly you want to be physically and mentally ready for the NCAA Tournament."
If you go by minutes played, Patrick Poblete is the frontrunner to be UNM's NCAA starter. He has logged 291:26 minutes and has made 15 D-I saves this season. Javier Lane has played 19:44 minutes and didn't get a chance to stop a shot in that one game.
Poblete also played 45 minutes (a full half) in UNM's final regular-season game vs. Houston Baptist.
The Lobos will be playing in their seventh MPSF Tournament and looking for their fourth title. This is UNM's last shot at that MPSF crown as UNM will move to Conference USA in 2013.
"We're real excited to play. We're healthy and excited," said Fishbein of UNM's quest for the 2012 crown. "There definitely is a home-field advantage. It's nice to be home. It's another opportunity for our fans to come out and it's a great situation for us.
"Our players feel they are such a part of the community and they want to share the matches and the opportunity to succeed with so many people. We feel privileged to play here. We get so much of our energy from the people who are in the stands, so we are hoping for a nice crowd Friday night."
Air Force is the only MPSF team to beat UNM this year and the Falcons did it 1-0 in overtime in Albuquerque and 2-1 in Colorado Springs. The Lobos beat Denver 1-0 (2OT) and 2-0 in the regular season.
"You should, in theory, have a big advantage in getting a bye," Fishbein said referring to having fresh legs for Friday's semifinal.
The Lobos are led in scoring by Devon Sandoval with 14 goals and four assists. James Rogers has seven goals and five assists and Blake Smith has three goals and 13 assists. There have been 15 Lobos, who have bent the net this season and nine Lobos have scored at least two goals in 2012.
Fishbein's scouting report for Friday's game will be formed after Thursday's matches, but these are old and familiar foes.
"They are all good teams," said Fishbein. "The focus is on Friday. We have to be at our best Friday in whoever we face."