UNM Men's Soccer To Switch Leagues

Jeremy Fishbein works every day on ways to improve the University of New Mexico men’s soccer team.

On Tuesday, the University of New Mexico did some improving for him.

UNM will join Conference USA in men’s soccer in 2013, adding its own potent résumé to a league already strong in the sport.

“It’s one of the most significant developments since I’ve been here,” said Fishbein, who is in his 11th season coaching the Lobos.

UNM has been a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation since 1999 (and was in the league from 1992-95) and will host the MPSF men’s soccer tournament Nov. 8-11.

But UNM, ranked eighth in this week’s national coaches’ poll, felt the league was limiting its program.

“I don’t mean to speak ill of our partners (in the MPSF),” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said, “but the reality is, to be consistently competitive nationally at a high level, we thought our league was holding us back.

“That’s probably bulletin board material. It’s not meant to be. It’s simply a recognition that, as we assess our soccer program, how do we grow? How do we get better? How do we continue to build on the work Fish has done?”

Of the nine teams that will make up the 2013 C-USA lineup, five had a top-25 ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index in 2011. At No. 8, UNM currently is the only MPSF team ranked in the top 35 in RPI.

“It’s one of the best conferences in the country,” Fishbein said of C-USA. “Big-name teams. Last year it may well have had the highest RPI in the country. It’s going to bring big games to Albuquerque.”

Also joining C-USA in men’s soccer next year will be 2011 NCAA runner-up Charlotte (ranked seventh in this week’s coaches’ poll) and Old Dominion (ranked 15th). The current members are No. 25 Alabama-Birmingham (17th in RPI), South Carolina (25th in RPI), Florida International, Kentucky, Marshall and Tulsa.

Tulsa last week ended UNM’s 23-game unbeaten streak. The Lobos open their home schedule Friday against UAB, the defending C-USA champion.

“Our guys want to play against the best,” Fishbein said, “and they’re going to get that opportunity on a regular basis.”

UNM senior associate athletic director Kurt Esser, who spent time on the NCAA soccer committee, was instrumental in opening a dialogue with Conference USA. The discussions began even before the recent talk of the Mountain West Conference and C-USA forming some kind of alliance in all sports.

Men’s soccer and skiing are the only two sports UNM does not compete in as a member of the MWC.

“Our conference (MPSF) has some good teams at the top,” Krebs said. “But the depth and the RPI rankings weren’t there.”

SANDOVAL HONORED: Lobo forward Devon Sandoval is the MPSF player of the week for the second consecutive week. The senior from Albuquerque scored a goal on seven shots in UNM’s 3-1 defeat of No. 20 SMU on Sunday. — This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal