Lobo Soccer Looks To Join Elite Company Versus UConn
Nov. 22, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Three months and 21 matches later, the University of New Mexico men's soccer team continues their journey through the 2012 season. A Sweet 16 appearance against fourth-seeded UConn on Sunday is the next chapter of the Lobos' odyssey.
Back in August, Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein commented on the team's goals for the season.
"The goals are to be good and to play up to our ability. We believe we have the personnel that if we play up to our potential every time we step on the pitch, we'll be the better team."
Now sitting with a record of 17-3-1 and a second straight trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Fishbein and company have shown they've played up to those preseason expectations. However, now it's time to move from achieving expectations to realizing a dream.
New Mexico is in the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in eight seasons. Only once in the previous three trips to the third round has UNM moved on to the Elite Eight. The 2005 team did just that and then won two more matches to reach the championship match of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, which the Lobos lost to Maryland.
In the meantime it's the "coach speak" mantra of "one game at a time". Facing BIG EAST power Connecticut reinforces that day-to-day approach.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Lobos made a statement or three in their 3-1 victory over ACC power Virginia in the second round at the UNM Soccer Complex. The Cavaliers, making their 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, had only faced two teams from west of the Mississippi coming into the game. The match-up was just what Coach Fisbein wanted; an east coast team who hadn't experienced or seen New Mexico soccer.
Here is what UVA saw at the UNM Soccer Complex:
Connecticut spent most of the season ranked as one of the country's top teams. The Huskies began the season 11-0-2 before finishing 15-3-1. Their three losses to Marquette, Providence and Notre Dame were all by one goal. Their loss to the Irish came in the BIG EAST Tournament semifinals as Notre Dame went on to win the BIG EAST and clinch the NCAA Tournament's number one overall seed.
It will be no easy task entering Morrone Stadium where UConn is 11-0-1 this season. The stadium, like the UNM Soccer Complex, is known for big crowds. In their last three home matches, the Huskies have seen attendance in excess of 4,600 fans in each of those matches. The Huskies have not lost at home in 37 matches since the 2009 BIG EAST Tournament.
In their second round NCAA Tournament game, UConn defeated the Colonial Athletic Association's champions Northeastern 1-0. The match's lone goal came in the 24th minute. The action began with a free kick by UConn that eventually found the feet of Mamadou Doudou Diouf. The junior from the Senegal buried his 14th goal of the season to put the Huskies on the board.
UConn, who finished the regular season tied for second in the BIG EAST with Georgetown and behind Louisville, earned their fair share of BIG EAST awards. Four Huskies were First Team All- BIG EAST, one was Third Team All-BIG EAST and midfielder Adria Beso was named to the All-BIG EAST Rookie Team.
Andre Blake was named BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year. The sophomore posted an impressive eleven shutouts in his 20 starts between the pipes.
Head Coach Ray Reid leads the UConn Huskies. He's in his 16th year at the helm of the program with a 234-76-39 (.726) record in Storrs. He spent eight seasons prior to UConn at Southern Connecticut. His combined record at both schools makes him the NCAA's second winningest active coach with a .770 winning percentage. Reid has four national championships, eight final four appearances and seven BIG EAST titles to his name.
Sunday afternoon's match will have New Mexico as the underdogs for the first time since their season opener at UCLA. With the Lobos playing that role for the first time in 20 matches, it will be a bit of change for UNM.
"One of the exciting and positive things about this match is we are the underdog. In our minds we aren't the underdog, and we fully expect to win this game. But it's a little bit different pressure," said Fishbein on his 13th seeded Lobos facing fourth seed Connecticut.
Where perhaps additional excitement is generated is the similarity between the styles of the two teams. Both like to open things up and go toe-to-toe with their opponent. New Mexico ranks first in the nation in scoring offense with 55 goals in 21 games to UConn's 27th ranked scoring offense that tallied 37 goals in 20 matches.
New Mexico's Devon Sandoval and UConn's Mamadou Doudou Diouf are equally lethal from their forward positions. Each leads their team in goals with 14 this season, which ranks ninth in the NCAA.
The match also showcases a pair of stingy defenses and quality goalkeepers. UConn's Andre Blake ranks third in the nation in goals allowed average while UNM's Victor Rodriguez ranked fourth in the nation in gaa at 0.52 goals per game.
"Now we get to face a great team in UConn, but I think they're a team similar to us. They have excellent attacking players, they're strong defensively and like to play. I think it's a pretty intriguing match-up. It's a matter of, like every game, who can defend and whose attacking players can put the ball in the net," Coach Fishbein said earlier this week,
New Mexico's task is two-fold on Sunday in Storrs, Connecticut. Advance to the Elite Eight and make another statement against an east coast team.