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Men’s soccer players hope program will return to UNM

UNM’s Anthony Munoz, shown making a save while playing for La Cueva in 2017, is hopeful the Lobo men’s soccer program will return. JOURNAL FILE

As a mechanical engineer major at the University of New Mexico, Anthony Munoz is virtually consumed with a demanding schedule. Yet he maintains his love for soccer.

Lobo soccer.

Munoz, who was a redshirt freshman goalie on the UNM men’s soccer team last fall, continues to hold out hope that the sport will be reinstated after the university decided to cut it due to budgetary reasons in August.

The former La Cueva standout is one of 18 student-athletes who played for the Lobos last fall and remain enrolled at the university, said coach Jeremy Fishbein. Seven are from New Mexico.

Munoz said the 18 continue to train as if there will be a soccer team, and they have discussed the desire to remain optimistic about the Lobos’ squad being reinstated.

“The only thing I think about is that I have four years of eligibility and I would love to use all of it here at UNM,” Munoz said of his future with regard to soccer. “That’s as far as I think about the future.”

The Lobos would have had 24 players returning after a 4-12-1 season ended in November. Two of those 24 – Nick Taylor (SMU) and Matt Puig (Creighton) – transferred, Fishbein said, while three are enrolled in UNM online courses and one is a part-time student.

Fishbein and his assistant Kelly Altman are not allowed to train the Lobos in a structured setting, as their usual spring season was canceled. That announcement was made in September.

However, the players continue to work out and practice, even though there are no set times or designed drills to run on the soccer field. Sometimes it’s just some form of games, similar to pick-up soccer.

Fishbein admires their spirit and drive, calling them “incredible” and “as committed as any player that we’ve ever had at UNM.”

“Everybody remains optimistic that there’s going to be soccer at UNM,” said Fishbein, who remains under contract as coach through June. “We all have to operate off that premise to a degree. As things currently stand, soccer has been eliminated. There isn’t going to be a soccer team this fall. That’s the directive of our administration and we respect that. It’s a tough spot, but I think from me personally and for our players, we think soccer is an integral part of our state and everyone hopes for a win-win. We want what’s best for the university, we want what’s best for the state and right now, and most importantly, we want what’s best for our players.”

Munoz, who was regarded as the top goalie in the state when at La Cueva, said he had always wanted to play for the Lobos. He remembers he had shagged balls with his club team for UNM men’s soccer games. His late grandfather, Manuel, also wanted him to play there.

Munoz committed to UNM with the belief that he would play four seasons for the Lobos, he said. He believes the words of politicians, such as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who said during campaigning last year that she intended to bring men’s soccer back to UNM.

“I don’t feel defeated at all,” Munoz said. “I believe in the people in Santa Fe and the new group of regents that they’ll be able to make things right – not just for soccer but the whole athletic department. I don’t think it’s just me; it’s the entire locker room that embraces that as well.”

UNM goalie Ford Parker, a senior academically last fall who started 14 matches, also always wanted to play for the Lobos and joined the team after graduating from Sandia High School. After the season ended, he didn’t want to find another program to join as a graduate transfer. He said he wanted to remain at UNM to see what the future holds.

“We definitely have hope that there will be a program here,” Parker said. “That’s why a lot of guys are enrolled. They see the history. UNM is a storied program and they understand that. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come here and play soccer.”