Stevens: New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer -- 2012 Season Review
Dec. 18, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer - 2012 Season Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Three little words: "The guys delivered."
That phrase tossed out by Coach Jeremy Fishbein succinctly describes yet another New Mexico soccer season of excellence that probably can't be described accurately or fairly by a million words.
There was simply too much - too much excellence, too much pressure and responsibility shrugged aside by a special team, too much achievement on the pitch.
The Fishbein Lobos didn't enter the season with a monkey on their collective back. They entered with a target on it. Fishbein's Lobos of 2011 roared to an undefeated season and the 18-0-4 record that helped push New Mexico soccer into a No. 1 national ranking last year was not a subtle reminder of what was expected in 2012.
It was bold demand.
And the 2012 Lobos delivered.
Possibly, there is no other Lobo team that has seen this much pressure and expectation since the squad that followed UNM's march to the 2005 national championship game. Everybody wanted a shot at the 2012 Lobos. Everybody wanted to snap that Lobo undefeated string.
"There was a huge challenge coming off last year (18-0-4). We went through a season in which we were the favorite in 20 of 22 games," said Fishbein. "That's quite a challenge to play with that target on you. That's what our program strives for, but that's a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility to perform.
"The guys delivered. That's what I'm most proud of. They were very good every game and I was proud to be part of that."
The Lobos entered the season ranked No. 2 in the College Soccer News poll and No. 6 in the NSCAA poll. They opened the season at No. 2 (NSCAA) UCLA with 3-2 win and closed it with a double-overtime, sudden-death 2-1 loss at UConn.
Those were the two games in which the Lobos took to the pitch as the underdog. Even in UNM's four losses, the Lobos probably were the superior team except for a few critical and deciding minutes.
Still, a Lobo team probably good enough to again play for a national title was denied the program's second-ever trip to the Elite Eight of the College Cup. UNM finished the season ranked No. 10 in the final NSCAA poll and spent the entire season ranked in the Top 20.
"We had opportunities to win but we didn't get the bounce," said Fishbein of the NCAA road loss at UConn. "We knew we were one of the top teams in the country. We didn't get the bounces, but if you gauge your success on a single-elimination tournament that is so impacted by bounces, you will drive yourself crazy.
"Sometimes you create your own monster. You can make yourself miserable thinking about what might have happened. At the end of the season, there is only one coach who is totally happy. For the rest of us you have to sit back and reflect on the whole season.
"For us, it was a very good season. We have lost four games in two years. That's pretty special."
The Lobos also had 35 wins in two years. New Mexico ended the 2012 season at 17-4-1 and said goodbye to a special group of seniors that helped lead UNM to those program-tying 35 wins over the past two seasons.
The Lobos of 2012 featured a lot of returning production from 2011 and there wasn't much difference between the two squads. They were both focused, aggressive, disciplined and confident in their intent on the field. As UNM's top scorer, Devon Sandoval, put it: "We play with a lot of pride both as individuals and as a team. We expect to win."
Another product of Lobo soccer is the rewards that come off the pitch. Sandoval and Kyle Venter were named NSCAA and Soccer College News All-Americans. Venter, a junior, also was a NSCAA First Team Scholar All-American. Rossi was named to the Capital One Academic All-America Third Team.
Venter and freshman Ben McKendry were honored by TopDrawerSoccer.com as members of their National Teams of the Season - Venter Second Team and McKendry to the Second Team Freshmen All-Season Team.
The Lobos, who will leave the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and jump to Conference USA in 2013, had 10 players named to the All-MPSF Teams. First Team: Devon Sandoval, Blake Smith, Kyle Venter, Victor Rodriguez; Second Team: Michael Calderon, Levi Rossi, Michael Kafari; Third Team: James Rogers, Travis Campbell, Mathew Gibbons. McKendry was the MPSF Freshman of The Year.
Sandoval and Smith were invited to the MLS Player Combine, the showcase event for the upcoming MLS Draft.
"We are on the radar. Everybody knows about our program," said Fishbein. "We are known as a very good program and a program that develops student-athletes as good citizens and community leaders.
"That's an important part that's not always seen. We also are a program that allows players to reach their dreams of playing at the next level without compromising academic standards."
The Lobos take a big hit in talent - and points - lost, but return another solid core of Lobos with great expectations - Lobos who will enter the 2013 season with another target on their backs. It's Conference USA's turn to take shots at the Lobos.
The Lobos' attitude is what it has always been under Fishbein: Bring it on."
"The challenge for us is that we've pushed the bar pretty high here," said Fishbein. "You are always chasing those standards. It's a constant battle, a lot of pressure. You can't rest.
"But we don't plan to."
2012 New Mexico Lobos Soccer Season Highlights
17-4-1 Final Record.
Regular Season MPSF Champs - 8th Regular season MPSF Conference title, 11th overall (including MPSF Tournament titles).
Ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in eleven seasons.
Two straight NCAA Sweet 16's (fourth overall).
One of only 8 teams in nation to make Sweet 16 last two seasons.
11-0 victory over UNLV was most goals in program history against a NCAA Division I opponent. The match saw Devon Sandoval become the first player since Jeff Rowland in 2005 to record a hat trick. His three goals and two assists were the third-most points in a conference match in MPSF history.
Lobos were named to TopDrawerSoccer's National Team of the Week six different times. Devon Sandoval three times, Victor Rodriguez once, Kyle Venter once and James Rogers once. Sandoval was the three-time MPSF Player of the Week as well.
The 35 wins in 2011 and 2012 tie the most wins in a two-year span in program history. The 2004 and 2005 teams also had 35 wins.
Jeremy Fishbein surpassed Klaus Weber for the all-time win record at UNM. His record at New Mexico is now 154-48-26 in eleven seasons.
The Lobos had the highest number of different players score a goal in the nation. 15 different Lobos combine to score 53 goals this season. Those 53 goals in 22 matches made UNM second in the nation in goals per game.
Blake Smith finished second in the nation with 13 assists. That was the second-most assists in a season in program history.
Devon Sandoval's 15 goals and seven assists put him in the top ten in college soccer in total goals and total points this season. He leaves in the program in the top ten all-time in the same two categories in team history.
New Mexico posted eleven shutouts this season, which was the third most in program history.
UNM ranked in top 25 in NSCAA rankings the entire season. Reached as high as third and finished No. 10.
The Post-Season Awards:
MAC-Hermann Semifinalist: Devon Sandoval (Third time in program history). All-MPSF: First Team: Devon Sandoval, Blake Smith, Kyle Venter, Victor Rodriguez. Second Team: Michael Calderon, Michael Kafari and Levi Rossi. Third Team: James Rogers, Travis Campbell, Matthew Gibbons. Newcomer of the Year: Ben McKendry.
College Soccer News All-Freshmen Team: Second Team: Ben McKendry.
Capital One Academic All-American: Levi Rossi (Third Team).
NSCAA Team Academic Award: Ninth time in ten years. 3.30 team GPA ranked in top 25 nationally.
Blake Smith and Devon Sandoval received invites to the MLS Player combine. New Mexico is one of only 13 schools in the country to have multiple players invited to the MLS Player combine. Only 54 players in the nation are invited to this.