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Blue-collar Lobos ready to battle soccer’s elite

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The New Mexico men’s soccer team boards an airplane today to wintry Philadelphia, knowing it is not the blue blood of college athletics.

It’s not Virginia with its six national soccer championships. It’s not Maryland with eight College Cup appearances in 16 seasons. It’s not Notre Dame with its general prestige.

But this New Mexico bunch has the personality its coach, Jeremy Fishbein, likes. It’s a gritty, hungry, confident team.

“I coached nine years in Division II where you’re doing everything but washing the socks, you know?” Fishbein said. “Then you get here and you’re always kind of hungry.”

But that underdog mentality is taking a hit as the Lobos continue to show up and advance in NCAA Tournaments.

“When you talk to other people, they say, ‘Yeah, you’re an elite program, one of three teams to make it to the Round of 16 the last three years,’ ” Fishbein said. “So, I think we’re a great program.”

But he’s not saying it is elite.

“There’s a handful of programs that are getting players that we have difficulty getting,” Fishbein said. “In terms of the blue-chip kids, the national team kids, they’re hard for us to get.”

 UNM defender Kyle Venter (12) and midfielder Chris Wehan (14) have helped the Lobos register 11 shutouts this season. They're the only team that has not allowed a goal in the NCAA Tournament. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)


UNM defender Kyle Venter (12) and midfielder Chris Wehan (14) have helped the Lobos register 11 shutouts this season. They’re the only team that has not allowed a goal in the NCAA Tournament. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

But, the coach said, he seems to get the kind of kids he likes – guys with a little chip on their shoulders.

“We’ve had kids who could have gone to Harvard, could have gone almost anywhere, but for some reason said, ‘Hey, that’s the fit for me. That’s the lunatic I want to play for,’ ” Fishbein said.

“I think the respect for our program is very high in this country. We’re an honest, hardworking, industrious team that can play soccer with a lot of pride. I think everybody knows that we have an incredible fan base. And there’s a lot of respect for New Mexico.”

PHILLY FOOTING: The Lobos play Notre Dame in the 3 p.m. semifinal Friday at PPL Stadium, home of the MLS’ Philadelphia Union. Forecast for Philadelphia on Friday is 32 degrees with a chance of precipitation.

In winning at Seattle last week, the Lobos encountered a frosty field and purchased shoes just prior to the game that helped them secure their footing. Will those shoes make another appearance in Philadelphia?

“I think we’ll bring everything. Probably need some snow boots,” Fishbein said. “We’ll have the proper footwear. It’s a great stadium with a professional ground crew. I imagine the field is covered and it will be very good come Friday. That’s not a concern.”

FINALS WEEK: The Lobos have juggled preparing for the College Cup with final exams.

“The guys expected to be in the Final Four, so they’re pretty on top of it,” Fishbein said. “For me, as a student, finals meant staying up for 24 hours straight. But that’s because I hadn’t done the work ahead of time. These guys are pretty on top of it. They’re well prepared.”

SHUTOUTS: The Lobos are the only Final Four team that hasn’t allowed a goal this tournament. Goalkeeper Michael Lisch and defenders Kyle Venter and Mathew Gibbons have led a defense that has 11 shutouts this season.

RADIO WAVES: Veteran broadcaster Henry Tafoya will call the Lobo-Notre Dame game for 101.7 FM.

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