ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —
By Glen Rosales
For the Journal
The reaction was somewhat delayed but forceful when New Mexico flashed up on the screen Monday afternoon at Coaches Sports Bar & Grill as the Lobos men‘s soccer team gathered to watch the pairings for the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s great,” UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein said as he clapped his hands in response to seeing the Lobos with the 13th seed. “That’s nice. I’ll take that. They want nothing to do with us. I’m good with that.”
New Mexico on Sunday at 7 p.m. will play host to the winner of Thursday’s opening-round match between Lafayette and Virginia.
“You always want to be optimistic going into these things, but I think you always prepare for the worst,” said Fishbein, whose teams have too often been handed the worst. “Our main thing was getting that bye. And we wanted to play somebody who had never been to this field, who had never experienced this environment and we got both of those.”
The players were satisfied with the seeding, as well.
“I was a little nervous that we weren’t going to get the bye, just because you never know what the NCAA is going to do,” said forward Devon Sandoval. “I think it took me a second to kind of figure out that we did get the bye and got what we wanted. We’re definitely happy and we’re excited to play.”
Midfielder Blake Smith said the team is not looking back at the disappointing outcome of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation final Sunday when it lost to Air Force on penalty kicks.
“The team is fired up,” he said. “Obviously we’re a little disappointed about the conference finals but this is another part of the season. We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward. We’re excited and we’re hungry like coach said. It should be a good one.”
The Lobos believe the home field advantage will prove to be the undoing of their opponents.
“This is a tough place to come when teams from other regions come here, they don’t know what hit them,” Fishbein said. “And when they deal with our field, our crowd and with the altitude, I think we’re going to make it pretty tough.”
It’s the second straight year New Mexico has gotten an opening-round bye. Last season, the Lobos beat Duke in their first game at home, before losing at South Florida in a penalty kick shootout.
Following that match, UNM goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez had an altercation that landed him a suspension that included the Lobos’ first NCAA Tournament game.
So he will be replaced by Patrick Poblete, who was in net for Sunday’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation against Air Force, as well as New Mexico’s season-opening win over UCLA.
“Poblete has done great,” Fishbein said. “He can more than handle the role. I think he showed that yesterday; he had an excellent game. He was in goal for our win against UCLA to open the season. So that’s not even an issue. We’ll be firing on all cylinders come Sunday.”
And the Lobos are looking forward to a long tournament season.
“I think we’re better than last year,” Sandoval said. “We have a lot more experience than last year. We’re ready to go. We’re hungry. I think we can make a run at it.”