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Lobos Foil 21st-Rated Billikens In Opener

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Freshman Kafari Scores UNM’s Go-Ahead Goal

A week ago, Michael Kafari, a true freshman for the UNM men’s soccer team, wondered if he would see any playing time in the Lobos’ home opener, his first college game.

The first-year player from Boise, Idaho, had been hurt earlier in preseason and had been feeling right only for the last few days.

On Wednesday night, four minutes into the second half, and New Mexico tied 1-all with No. 21-ranked Saint Louis University, Kafari, the brand-new Lobo, leaped for a high kick from Michael Reed 10 feet in front of the goal. Stretching above a clutch of Saint Louis players, Kafari twisted his body to the side and headed the ball into the top left corner of the net.

It was a thing of beauty, the shot. The 800 fans on hand at the UNM Soccer Complex were quiet for a moment, as if not quite sure what had happened. Then the most boisterous spectators, those sitting behind the Lobos’ goal at the south end of the Complex, realized the ball had gone in  and roared their approval.

In the stands, taking up part of three rows, the Lobo Beat Kicks, a group of nine drummers who pounded West African drums for the entire game, erupted into an ear-shattering thumping.

Kafari’s go-ahead goal seemed to ignite the Lobos and in fact, it led them to a 3-2 win over the Billikens.

“I was a little nervous,” said Kafari afterward.  “But I kept working hard.”

Kafari said he saw the Saint Louis goalkeeper, Nick Shackleford, “kind of leaning.” A half-second later, he also saw the ball “coming my way.”

Standing 6-foot-1, Kafari said his height helped him.

“He’s really hard to match up with,” UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein said of the freshman. “He’s got some real special qualities. This was a real confidence-builder for Michael.”  

Fishbein knew what Kafari could do when the coach saw Kafari play in Olympic Development tournament in Arizona two years ago.

“Oh, come on,” Kafari said in answer to why he came to UNM.  “This is one of the best soccer schools in the nation.”

While Fishbein extolled Kafari and the play of sophomores — in particular, Levi Rossi, who scored the Lobos’ first goal, and Devon Sandoval, who assisted Rossi, along with Patrick Pacheco and Josh Caffey — the coach was not entirely happy with how the Lobos performed in the curtain raiser.

“It was a bitttersweet win,” Fishbein said.

“The only way they (the Billikens) were going to beat us was in using set pieces.  We knew that. And they scored two goals on set pieces.  We still need to be a team that is mentally tough and that does not allow that stuff. “

Fishbein said that style of playing, and “sitting back a little,” which had been the bane of the Lobos last season, won’t help them in their next game, Saturday.

“We play a much better team (UC Santa Barbara).  “We can’t make the kind of mistakes we did tonight against them.”