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Lobo Trained With MLS Pros

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UNM Forward Says Confidence Bolstered

Like many college students entering their senior year, Devon Sandoval tried his hand at his chosen field by working with the pros over the summer.

Sandoval, a forward for the University of New Mexico men’s soccer team, had a little bit different experience than most of fellow seniors, however, as he was training with Major League Soccer teams D.C. United and Real Salt Lake.

“In D.C., I was real nervous when I got out there but by the end, I started playing like myself and playing well,” said Sandoval, a local player who graduated from Eldorado. “But it was definitely a lot of nerves. But when I got to Salt Lake, I was relaxed, I just played and I played well. We’ll see what happens, but my focus is on this season and doing well. If we do well and I do well, then something will come out of it.”

UNM men’s soccer
Season opener: Aug. 24 at UCLA, 8 p.m.
Coach: Jeremy Fishbein
Last year: 18-0-4
Preseason rank: 6th by the NSCAA

Lobos coach Jeremy Fishbein helped arranged the visits for several of his seniors, something he has been doing for players who have a chance to continue their playing careers once they are done with college.

“It was confidence building because they know they can play at that level,” the coach said. “I think that’s a good thing for our players, and it’s a good thing for our program.”

It’s all about showing the players that the New Mexico program is on par with any in the country, Fishbein said.

“My biggest thing as a coach is I want our guys to have confidence,” he said. “We don’t want them to be intimidated by anybody. And just all of these little experiences give confidence to the individuals and to the program. They know that they can step onto the field against anybody in the world at any level and be successful.”

Until hitting the pro camps, confidence was never something Sandoval lacked, and he now says he feels even more prepared for his third season at UNM after spending his freshman year at San Diego State.

“I learned just to be confident in myself, because if I can play with them, then I can play with anybody,” he said. “I definitely want to bring that back to help our team out.”

And that’s the most important thing for the Lobos, who were just ranked sixth nationally in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I preseason rankings.

“We’ve had enough great players here that we know the standard,” Fishbein said of players with potential to further their career. “And as far as Devon goes, Devon should be playing professionally next year. That’s my expectation for him. But my bigger issue is that he helps us be good over the next four or five months, and I know that he will.”

A hard-charging, dynamic player, Sandoval said he thinks this year’s squad has the potential to be better than last year’s, when the Lobos were often atop the national polls.

“I think we have one of the best teams in the country, hands down,” he said. “We’re real deep. There’s a lot of experience and maturity about our team. I expect us to do really well.”

Some of the success will be riding on Sandoval’s shoulders, but Fishbein said the prolific scorer is up to the task because of his work ethic.

“He’s passionate. He’s relentless,” he said. “Outside of just having some great physical attributes and technical ability, the most important thing for any athlete is passion and commitment, and he has that.

“He’s pretty driven and a good person and a humble person who cares about his teammates,” Fishbein continued. “He loves his family, and he loves Albuquerque. He plays with a lot inside when he steps on the field and when he wears a Lobo uniform. There’s a lot of fuel charging him, that’s for sure.”

Although there’s still one more season to go, Sandoval said he’s already gotten to realize a dream when he played before a raucous, sell-out crowd in the NCAA Tournament last season at home against Duke.

“When we played Duke and won in overtime that was awesome because when I was in high school, I was at those games in ’05 when they made that run so that was always a dream of mine,” he said. “For it to happen to us, that was real cool. That was real exciting, especially in front of all my family and friends.”

Now he just wants to experience that feeling again at the end of this season.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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