CHESTER, Pa. – The players and coaches will always remember the 2013 season as a major success.
But in the short term, the pain was evident.
No. 7-seeded New Mexico traveled about 1,700 miles to the Philadelphia area with one task in mind – winning the NCAA College Cup. Third-seeded Notre Dame (16-1-6) had other ideas and showed why it has dropped just one game all season.
The Lobos (14-6-2), who hadn’t conceded one goal in their three previous NCAA Tournament games, struggled to put consistent pressure on Notre Dame’s defenders and fell 2-0 in the semifinals Friday at PPL Park.
“It’s hard to look forward too much, and it’s hard to look at the positives of the season right now,” New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “I’m just proud of the guys.”
Fishbein then paused.
“We weren’t up to par today and that’s the disappointing thing,” he said.
Both teams had to deal with frigid conditions.
In one end zone – where the Sons of Ben Supporters group reside for Philadelphia Union games – each seat had snow and ice on it. The fans in the stands were bundled up with several layers of clothing.
On the pitch, players’ breath could be seen the entire game.
This was far different than games played in August and September.
The elements were the same for both sides, and Notre Dame simply outplayed the Lobos.
Patrick Hodan scored in the seventh and 65th minutes, providing all the offense the Fighting Irish would need.
When the Lobos have time to reflect, they’ll look back fondly at what transpired this season.
In the immediacy of the moment, they were noticeably down.
“Credit to them as they capitalized on their two chances,” New Mexico senior defender Kyle Venter said. “I don’t think we were at our best.”
The Lobos’ last trip to the Final Four came in 2005 when they defeated Clemson in the national semifinals before falling to Maryland in the championship.
They expected to at least advance that far once again led by Venter, the Conference USA Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
Goalkeeper Michael Lisch had been just as strong, with 11 clean sheets, the third-most in program history.
Notre Dame did all the little things well and improved to 2-1 all-time against the Lobos.
“I think we were all disappointed with our performance,” Fishbein said. “I thought Notre Dame was good. I just don’t think we had it today.”
The Lobos do have a very consistent program and were the only non-BCS school to reach the Elite Eight.
They’ll continue to build on that success in the years to come.
“It’s a celebration, but it’s sad to lose our four seniors,” Fishbein said. “That was the biggest message after the game. We’ve gone through so much as a group. It has to be a celebration of a season. It’s unfortunate to end it this way. They’re going to be missed.”
New Mexico missed out on a chance to win a national title, but only one team is able to accomplish that feat.
The players enjoyed every moment of the NCAA Tournament and their run to the Final Four at PPL Park, home of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” said Venter, a member of the Capital One Academic All-District Team. “We were taken care of from the time we stepped off the plane. It was a special weekend.”
It was a special season for so many reasons.
In its first season in Conference USA, the program took home the regular-season conference title and 13 all-conference awards.
“I’m just really proud of our guys – how they’ve developed, the unity of our group,” Fishbein said.
Two chances eluded the Lobos and that was ultimately the difference.
“They were very advantageous with what they do,” Lisch said. “There were no surprises.”