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Still kicking: Soccer remains in Fishbein’s life after Lobos

Former UNM men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein, now a volunteer assistant coach for the Albuquerque High girls soccer team, directs the team during warm-ups before a match last Wednesady against La Cueva High School. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

This office in the Northeast Heights is a thousand metaphorical miles from the one Jeremy Fishbein used to occupy on the other side of town.

This one faces west, from the Bank of Albuquerque building just to the south and west of the San Mateo/Montgomery intersection. Inside that building, on the second floor where he is working for Argus Investment Realty, Fishbein, 53, has been studying to get his Realtor’s license. He hopes to be licensed to sell commercial properties within the next couple of months.

That’s his new day job.

“Is it displaced? Is it confused? Is it exciting for what lies ahead?” Fishbein asked. “It’s still very much a transition.”

But the former University of New Mexico men’s soccer coach still has both toes in the coaching realm, as he has been serving as a volunteer assistant for the Albuquerque High girls, where his daughter, Gabriela Meraz-Fishbein, is a junior center midfielder.

“It was just kind of a collaborative deal,” said Fishbein. “I’ve always followed Albuquerque High soccer, both the boys and the girls. … Having this fall free was an opportunity to spend more time with my daughter and to give something back to kids.”

UNM’s decision to cut men’s soccer — and this cut still runs very deep with Fishbein — left Fishbein’s former players scattered around the country, many in nationally-ranked programs. While the school disbanded his team and sliced his reputable program from the ledger, he’s following all of them.

But as those athletes found fresh starts elsewhere, Fishbein was somewhat in limbo.

“All I’ve ever done professionally is coach, so anything will be an adjustment,” Fishbein said. “I think the biggest thing for me is taking positive steps, finding the positives in everything I do. It would be very easy to just focus on the negatives and be angry. And that’s my biggest challenge, to stay positive. Anger is such an unhealthy emotion. First and foremost, I’m about my family, our community … I still love UNM, and want to see UNM be extremely successful, academically and athletically.”

UNM’s loss has been Albuquerque High’s gain, as the Bulldogs find themselves having access to Fishbein’s nimble brain and invaluable experience.

“On a daily basis, we have one of the best coaches in the nation helping us out,” AHS head coach Natasha Lee said, adding that Fishbein approached her about possibly joining the coaching staff. “I was excited to have this opportunity, and the program has taken to him.”

AHS is ranked fourth in Class 5A. The Bulldogs (12-2), despite losing star scorer, junior Zaria Katesigwa, early in the season to a knee injury, are battling for a top-four seed this season. They reached the state semifinals last November, a program-best showing.

“I really like having him out here, it’s just a great addition to the program,” Gabriela Meraz-Fishbein said. “I think it’s impacted (us) greatly. His knowledge of the game, and understanding new ways to play soccer, and understanding the game at a whole new level.”

Said Jeremy Fishbein: “When you coach your own kid, you have to be careful not to show favoritism. Almost the opposite. You almost have to be harder. But she’s a hard worker, a great teammate, and, I think, a wonderful player. So it’s pretty easy to coach her.”

Gabriela doesn’t mind, either way.

“He pushes me hard and I like that,” she said, smiling. “It’s good for me to get pushed.”

As for her AHS teammates, the benefits have been obvious, said senior defender Mercy Mummert.

“He’s definitely brought a better understanding (of soccer),” she said. “I play for a high intensity club coach who also coaches college, and to be coached by another men’s college coach, you see different parts of the game you haven’t thought of before.”

High school, Mummert said, is an offseason for many players whose club campaigns are their primary focus, but Fishbein is enhancing their experience through developing individual skills and different team styles of play.

And make no mistake, Fishbein is as committed to improving AHS’ girls as he was the Lobo men, where he said he understood the symbiotic relationship between the state’s largest university and its youth.

“Now that I’m around high school boys and girls, the role that the University of New Mexico men’s soccer played was a huge role in terms of ability to impact hundreds, if not thousands, of lives across our state,” he said, adding, “I think the talent (in New Mexico) is underappreciated. There are some excellent players. And I think we have to do a better job marketing our players, do a better job educating our coaches, and there should be much more opportunity for local kids to play in college than there has been in the past.”

Fishbein, who hails from Cincinnati, speaks as fervently and eloquently about New Mexico — the state — as any native New Mexican. That includes the confines of Bulldog City.

“I love everything Albuquerque High stands for,” he said. “It’s just a microcosm of our state, the diversity. It was a natural gravitation towards it.”

And that means doing everything he can to elevate the Bulldogs.

“I hope me being involved can raise the bar,” he said, “and what should be expected out of players. A good or great coach sets the bar higher than most kids do for themselves. But you have to be realistic. My goal is to help these kids reach their potential, individually, collectively, and to push them. I don’t think it’s much different, whether it’s high school girls or collegiate men or young professionals.”

Clearly, Fishbein’s desire to coach has not abated, although he said he was uncertain about his own future in this profession and whether he might return to the college ranks someday.

“I don’t know at this point,” he said. “This is home. I’m passionate about New Mexico. This is the best place for my family, and this is the place where I want to live.”

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