ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jeremy Fishbein understands that the sport he chose to play, the sport he now makes a good living at, is fickle.
Luck, he says, plays a role in soccer unlike any other sport.
“It’s a funny business to be in as a coach and as a player,” says Fishbein, who is busy this week preparing his New Mexico men’s soccer team for Sunday’s third-round NCAA Tournament match at Connecticut. “You get into a single-elimination tournament, playing good teams, and things can happen. Especially in soccer.
“You look at the NCAA basketball tournament, where you eliminate the home site, and luck isn’t as big a factor as it is in soccer. Soccer is pretty unique. On a given day, almost anybody can beat their opponent.”
So, as the No. 13 seeded Lobos prepare to visit No. 4 UConn at 11 a.m. Sunday, you can imagine him wearing the underdog tag, spouting the mantra of “on any given day.”
“In our minds we’re not the underdog,” Fishbein says. “We fully expect to win this game.”
Fishbein says at this stage it’s naive to say your team is the better team, yet he is confident.
“I’m not going to say I feel all 16 (remaining NCAA Tournament) teams are at the same level,” Fishbein says. “But I think there are eight teams that have some special qualities — whether it be how well they defend or how well they pressure.
“We’re in that mix of teams. It’s just up to us, how we deal with the situation, how we execute. On a given day, we’re the best team in the country. But that’s on a given day.”
Fishbein believes the pressure will be on UConn (16-3-1), which has had three straight 1-0 games, with two wins and a loss.
“They’ve put a lot of pressure on themselves,” Fishbein says. “If you look at their results, that’s probably starting to show a little bit. It’s worn on them a little bit. I think we’re catching them at a good time.”
The Lobos (17-3-1) know a little something about being the favorite. Of their 21 games, they were favored in 20 of them. The exception was against UCLA, a team UNM beat in the season opener.
“That’s quite a challenge as a team, as a program, to be the favorite,” Fishbein says. “It’s easy to play the underdog role, as a program, as an institution, it’s easy to be the underdog and try to fire your team up.
“We’ve never taken that approach here. We expect to win every game. We fully expect to win this game. If the pundits want to call you an underdog, so be it.”
Fishbein admits he talked with his wife the other morning about the possibility of Sunday’s game being the final match of the season.
“You try not to focus on it, but yeah, your season could be over,” Fishbein says. “You’re playing for a lot. The seniors, this could be their last game. It’s always bittersweet.”
Then he catches himself.
“I fully expect to be practicing next Monday and getting ready for the next game,” he says. “That’s our approach with the team. We plan on training next week and finding out who we play. That’s the mindset. Everybody expects to win on Sunday. You have to have that mentality.”
— This article appeared on page D4 of the Albuquerque Journal