Some University of New Mexico athletic programs feel the need to embrace the underdog role. The men’s soccer team is not one of them.
That confidence will be useful as it prepares for a 2014 schedule fraught with danger.
“It’s a pretty good one,” coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “Last year was pretty good. When you factor in the quality of the conference, it’s a really good schedule.”
It is highlighted by a Sept. 7 visit from four-time NCAA champion UCLA.
The Bruins are a potential No. 1 team. They return senior midfielder Leo Stolz, one of three finalists last year for the MAC Hermann Trophy.
UCLA also features the top-rated recruiting class, as listed by College Soccer News.
The Lobos, meanwhile, are a potential top-10 team coming off a trip to the 2013 College Cup. They lost four seniors who signed pro contracts, but return top scorers James Rogers, Niko Hansen, Riley McGovern, Ben McKendry and Chris Wehan, as well as defender Nick Rochowski.
The UCLA game is part of a return series. The Lobos went to Los Angeles in 2012 and beat the second-ranked Bruins 3-2. Fishbein said UNM has just finalized another home-and-away series with UCLA.
“It’s a good game for ambitious teams,” Fishbein said. “It’s a high RPI match in a credible environment and we’re willing to travel.”
With both UNM and UCLA typically high in the Ratings Percentage Index, the matchup is a natural.
“The games you don’t want are teams who are underrated in hard environments,” Fishbein said. “To play us, it’s a no-lose situation. If we have a high RPI, it’s a great game on the road. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If we play UCLA or Maryland on the road, we have nothing to lose.”
But the schedule hardly ends with UCLA.
It begins with an Aug. 29 visit from three-time College Cup participant Akron. The Zips, who were 17-4-1 last year, feature defender Bryce Cregan, a member of the U.S. under-17 team.
The Lobos will also entertain VCU, which is 6-2-1 against Top 25 teams the past two years. The Lobos and Rams played to a 1-1 draw last year in Richmond, Va.
A key nonconference road trip will come Sept. 12 at Cal State Northridge. The Matadors are led by forward Sagi Lev-Ari, a Hermann semifinalist who scored 16 goals last season.
The Conference USA schedule opens with a trip to Charlotte. The Lobos won the C-USA regular season title in their league debut, but the 49ers captured the conference tournament. Charlotte has been in the NCAA Tournament four of the past five seasons.
Old Dominion, which has been to the NCAAs in 10 of the last 12 years, comes to Albuquerque on Oct. 25.
SPRING FINAL: The Lobos close their spring season on Saturday with a trip to FC Tucson of the Premier Development League. The PDL, which includes the Albuquerque Sol, features current and former college, club and elite high school players.
“That’s going to be a good one,” Fishbein said. “They’re one of the top PDL teams in the country. They’re using this as a kickoff to their season. We’re excited to play a real quality team in a good environment.”
Fishbein expects the Lobos to win.
“Every time we get on the field we expect to win,” the coach said. “That’s the plan. Plan to win. We’ll play this game to win it.”
The Lobos have three wins this spring, beating Fort Lewis 6-1, Air Force 1-0 and Denver 3-0. Their only loss was 3-2 against the reserve team of the MLS Colorado Rapids.
CLASS OF ’14: UNM’s 2014 recruiting class was ranked 17th in the country by College Soccer News. It singled out midfielder Patrick Khouri and defender Matthew Dorsey, but indicated midfielder Sam Gleadle may end up being the standout of the class.
2014 UNM men’s soccer schedule