ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 9th-Ranked UNM Almost Assured of NCAA Berth
For the New Mexico men’s soccer team, this week is about getting in some competition, saying goodbye to some old foes and playing a game or two in front of the home crowd.
It’s not a particularly tense occasion.
But that’s not true for the other five teams in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, which begins today at the UNM Soccer Complex.
The Lobos, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, are ranked ninth in the nation and have an RPI listing of 12. That all but assures them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Denver’s RPI is 51, followed by Cal State-Bakersfield (57), San Jose State (106), Air Force (112) and UNLV (136).
“I don’t think we’re feeling the same pressure that we would if we knew we had to win this tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament,” UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “That’s a nice situation to be in.”
New Mexico (15-3-0) has a bye today, then will play the lowest remaining seed Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“Of course we want to win,” Fishbein said. “Our guys are going to play hard, and they want to finish out this run in the MPSF with a championship.”
This is UNM’s last year in the league as it will move to Conference USA next season.
Bakersfield (9-4-5) lost to UNM on penalty kicks in last year’s MPSF title game.
“Bakersfield’s a very good team,” Fishbein said. “Air Force, I think, will play very well on our field.”
UNM’s field is smaller than most Division I facilities, he said.
“It favors a more direct team,” the coach said. “Good in the air, good on set pieces. I think that will be Air Force’s strength. Bakersfield wants a more wide open field. So I think there will be some interesting matchups.”
And what about the possibility of a UNM-Air Force championship match? The Falcons (8-8-3) are the only league team to have beaten the Lobos this year, doing it on back-to-back weeks.
Fishbein is having none of that, saying it doesn’t do any good to look ahead.
“We’ve got to be at our best (Friday), whoever we face,” Fishbein said. “And you hope to play on Sunday. That’s the mentality.”
The Lobos had a 14-game home winning streak that stretched into this season. But that was ended by Air Force last month. Still, UNM is 112-37-10 all-time at home .
“We feel real privileged to play here,” Fishbein said.
Besides the home-field advantage, being a No. 1 seed has privileges. UNM’s Friday opponent has to survive a match today.
“You should, in theory, have a big advantage getting a bye,” the coach said. “It doesn’t always work out that way.”
Fishbein will be monitoring playing time.
“You’re hoping to play two games, then you’re hoping to play next week in the NCAA Tournament,” Fishbein said. “You have to be smart in terms of minutes and not fatigue players.”
The Lobos also must prepare a goalkeeper for the NCAA Tournament, because starter Victor Rodriguez is ineligible for the first round.
NOTE: New Mexico freshman midfielder Ben McKendry was named MPSF Newcomer of the Year. Of his four goals this season, three were game-winners.
Senior forwards Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith, junior defender Kyle Venter and Rodriguez were named to the conference’s first team.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal