ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Seniors Green, Rozeboom Enjoying Unbeaten Run
This is how it was supposed to go.
Back when midfielders and fellow Midwesterners Michael Green and Lance Rozeboom signed to play for the University of New Mexico men’s soccer team, they expected every season to unfold like it has in 2011.
Heading into tonight’s home match against Denver, the Lobos are 9-0-2 and ranked sixth in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and they chart even higher in polls by College Soccer News (No. 5) and Top Drawer Soccer (No. 3).
The Lobos have a proven grit, consistently producing clutch second-half plays to erase deficits and win games. Their last victory – a 2-1 win over Air Force – was sealed by a Blake Smith goal in the final minute of play. Whereas finishing games was a problem for the Lobos in recent years, it is now among their biggest strengths.
“This year, we have the belief we’re going to win no matter what,” Rozeboom said. “No matter what comes our way, we have the faith in each other to get it done.”
But it hasn’t always been like this.
For Green and Rozeboom, the team’s lone seniors, the past three years didn’t go quite according to plan.
In their freshman campaign, New Mexico – the 2005 national runner-up and perennial postseason qualifier – failed to make the NCAA Tournament. The past two years, the Lobos qualified but lost in the first round.
There have been no conference titles in the past three years, either.
“I think it’s fair to say they were disappointments – that’s a fair assessment,” Rozeboom said. “We didn’t achieve what we expected to, and we didn’t achieve what our talent could’ve allowed us to achieve had we been more disciplined or fought through the close games.”
Coach Jeremy Fishbein said his two seniors – who he expects to go onto professional careers – have weathered some ups and downs at UNM. Missing the tournament in 2008 was particularly rough, and he classified the last two years as “OK.”
“Expectations have been pretty high,” the coach said. “We dealt with some setbacks and injuries, and we weren’t what we’d hoped for.”
What might qualify as success for other schools, hasn’t always felt like it at UNM.
“What we’ve done, getting to the tournament and losing in the first round, that’s good for some programs,” said Green. “But for us that was a letdown.”
Green – the 2007 Ohio Player of the Year during his senior season at Springsville High School near Cleveland – picked the Lobos over suitors such as UCLA, Ohio State and 2010 national champion Akron, despite knowing little about the Southwest.
“It was definitely weird getting a letter, I’ll be honest. Being in Ohio, it’s like ‘New Mexico?'” Green said.
Rozeboom, from Walker, Iowa, was recruited by Notre Dame and Georgetown among others.
“I started getting recruited when (the Lobos) were No. 1 in the country and, obviously, we both have aspirations to play professionally, and the lure of coming to a place with that prestigious background is hard to pass up,” Rozeboom said.
Though the first three years were somewhat surprising, their final year in the cherry-and-silver has the makings of something much better.
With seven regular-season matches remaining, the Lobos already have equaled their 2010 win total. They’ve also scored more goals than all of last year and have tied the program record for the longest unbeaten streak.
Green and Rozeboom – full-time starters for the past three years – have helped guide the team to this point with their talent and distinct leadership styles, Fishbein said. Rozeboom is the team’s voice and intensity, while Green tends to be the program’s calming influence.
“At the end of the day, that’s probably how you gauge success: Are you making other people’s lives better, are you pushing people to be better men?” Fishbein said. “I think both Lance and Mike do that.”
The Lobo seniors know this could be the year that they finally get what they came for back in 2008 – a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Green said the team’s willingness “to stick things out together” has clearly elevated the program to the highest it’s been during his Lobo career.
Rozeboom said the team’s potential is clear, but added that it’s important to stay grounded.
“Our key is to go out every single practice, every single game with the mentality that we have to prove something. And we do we have to prove something,” he said. “If we come out with that mentality, I think we have good stuff ahead of us.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal