Stevens: New Mexico Men's Soccer 2011 Season Review
Dec. 25, 2011
New Mexico Lobos Men's Soccer - 2011 Season Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a magical season that ended with a seemingly impossible ending - undefeated, no losses. In another way, it is a New Mexico men's soccer season that might not ever end.
It was too great, too improbable, too productive, too alluring, and too beneficial to Lobo teams to come.
It was a season which produced almost as much historic postseason honor and glitter as it did when Jeremy Fishbein's Lobos made their bold run past a nation and into the No. 1 spot in the season polls.
"As a coach, you ask, "Why aren't we still playing?' said Fishbein, the MPSF and Region Coach of the Year. "But as a coach, I'm also amazed at the resiliency and the consistency of this team.
"There was never a question of effort, never a question of preparation. It was a team of outstanding individuals who put aside individual goals in order to become a great team."
Said UNM senior Michael Green: "We wanted a national championship, who doesn't? But we didn't lose a game which is incredible. Not many teams do that."
In the pitch run of 2011, there was only one college team that ended the season undefeated and it wasn't the eventual national champs, North Carolina. The Tar Heels were beaten twice; the Lobos - never.
But there is a reason coaches call this game "cruel" or "unlucky" and UNM's magical season and the magic the Lobos combined with great skill to produce 18 wins ended in Tampa, Fla. A scoreless NCAA game followed by two scoreless overtimes merged into a 6-5 penalty-kick win for the South Florida Bulls.
These Lobos were undefeated - 18-0-4 - because they were exceptional.
"That's not something I've ever been a part of," Fishbein said of his team's undefeated run that placed UNM atop the three major polls that rank men's college soccer.
"In terms of success, consistency and focus, there's been nothing like it here. It's pretty amazing to go 22 games without a loss."
The Lobo program, which played in the national title game in 2005, had never before produced an undefeated season. Fishbein's Lobos set a program record by winning 13 consecutive games during the season. They won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament behind All-Tournament players Kyle Venter, Michael Green and MVP Victor Rodriguez.
The Lobos took a small hit in pride when the NCAA Selection Committee slapped the nation's only undefeated team with a No. 10 seed, which handed UNM a first-round bye, a second-round home game (a Carson Baldinger golden goal in overtime) and a season-ending trip to South Florida.
"It wasn't the ending we wanted," said Fishbein. "We had our chances and we should have put the game away.
"But the guys were good every game. We set our goal to win the national championship, but inevitably you are going to have to have a little luck and it didn't go our way. It was a tough way to end the season, but I couldn't be prouder of our team and how they carried themselves throughout the season."
It's not difficult to understand why this special Lobo team ran to such a special season - especially if you saw these Lobos play. They were focused, aggressive, disciplined and purposeful in their intent on the soccer field.
"We stayed humble, stayed on our game, stayed focused," said Green.
Said Devon Sandoval: "We believed in each other and we came to play with a lot of pride."
The 2011 Lobos were the personification of honest effort, which is a staple in the foundation of Fishbein's program.
"We had a special knack of focusing on the game at hand," said Fishbein. "We also had good leadership throughout the team. Everybody worked to make the next guy better. We didn't have any players with their own agenda.
"This was a team thing, a special team thing, that you work for, but you don't always achieve. This team achieved it and that lesson should be passed on to other players wanting to duplicate that success."
"We got a lot of great press as a result of our season and that will help us attract the player we want to attract here," said Fishbein. "Our recruiting picked up a lot of momentum. Being No. 1, that really helped things out.
"We have always brought in kids who we wanted to be Lobos and who we knew would be exceptional Lobos. But it might get a little easier."
The Lobos had unprecedented success as a team and that success was a result of individual talent and achievement. Kyle Venter and Lance Rozeboom were Second-Team All-Americans. Levi Rossi was a Third-Team CoSIDA Academic All-American.
There were five Lobos named All-Far West Regional: Rozeboom, Venter, Devon Sandoval on the first team with Blake Smith on the second team and Michael Green on the third team. Three Lobos picked up NSCAA Scholar All-Region Honors. Smith and Venter were named to the first team while Rossi was placed on the second team.
The Lobos were outstanding in 2011 and there isn't any reason not to expect excellence from a 2012 team that will lose only Green and Rozeboom - both invited to the MLS Combine Player List.
The Lobos will return a ton of talent to a field that is among the best in college soccer in attendance. UNM drew an average of 3,749 fans to its ten home games in 2011 and drew more than 6,200 to its NCAA home game against the Duke Blue Devils.
Fishbein says his Lobos of 2012 will be very good. For sure, they have a high bar to shoot at, but Fishbein and his Lobos wouldn't have it any other way.