The old soccer rivalries for the New Mexico men have disappeared with the move to a new conference.
But it sure appears a new rivalry has already surfaced.
The Lobos scrapped with Florida International like two neighbors arguing over the fence line.
Six yellow cards, some words from the center referee and a series of mini skirmishes that threatened to flare out of control helped foster some serious ill will between the squads.
All the extra-curricular activities at times overshadowed what was an interesting clash that the Lobos won 2-1 on a James Rogers’ hard-working goal 8:48 into overtime.
“They did a good job of identifying that they couldn’t just play soccer with us,” New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “They made it a bit of a war. That was a team that’s used to playing that way. A lot of little stuff after the play. A lot of fouls. A lot of kind of trash talking.
“It kind of took us out of our game a little bit. The game got broken up, a lot fouls. But I thought we kept our composure.”
Chris Wehan, who put the Lobos (7-3-2, 3-0-1 Conference USA) up in the 21st minute with a goal off a feed from Niko Hansen, admitted the Panthers’ tactics were at times distracting.
“It was a big, physical team,” Wehan said of Florida International (5-6, 1-2). “I don’t think that was necessarily their game plan coming in but I think once we had the ball for the majority of the first half, I think they realized they could get physical with us and take us out of our game. I think they were successful for parts of it but in the end, we came out on top.”
Two minutes into the second half, the Panthers knotted it up after a defensive breakdown, although Lobos goalkeeper Michael Lisch made a tremendous diving save to thwart the first attempt. But the rebound came out to Quintin Albrecht, who put it away.
And that’s when the game became increasingly physical.
“They have some kids with a bit of an edge to them that want to play that kind of a game,” Fishbein said. “But that’s not how we want to play. We want to keep the ball moving. We want to not react.”
Rogers was so bothered by the Panthers’ antics that he had to be briefly pulled in the second half to calm down.
But once he got back on the field, he made a difference.
“As a soccer player, you only need one second to change the game,”
Rogers said. “I was fortunate to get that chance.”
That chance came in the 99th minute when Kyle Venter lofted a ball in front of the net. Rogers got a foot on it and pounded it off iron, but the rebound came right back to him for the game-winning header.
“We were pretty confident going into overtime,” Fishbein said. “The guys kept their cool and started playing soccer again, moving the ball and I think we were rewarded with that goal. So it was a very good win.
It wasn’t an easy win but it could have been.”
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