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Lobos visit UAB in key C-USA soccer match

UNM's Christopher Wehan (14)  battles for the ball against West Virginia's Nick Raskasky.  Wehan leads the Lobos with seven goals. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM’s Christopher Wehan (14) battles for the ball against West Virginia’s Nick Raskasky. Wehan leads the Lobos with seven goals. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The New Mexico Lobos men’s soccer team has traveled to the Deep South today looking to improve its Conference USA standing and perhaps enhance its already solid national position.

But coach Jeremy Fishbein is not nearly as interested in that as he is with how his 15th-ranked Lobos will play against the UAB Blazers.

“We have to focus on the game at hand,” Fishbein said by phone from the Las Vegas, Nev., airport as he made his journey to Birmingham, Ala. “It doesn’t do us much good looking too far ahead. We have high goals and we still have the ability to achieve them. It’s a good situation to be in.”

UNM (10-3-1) is tied for third with UAB (8-5-1) in C-USA with a 3-2 record. Both the Lobos and Blazers have been beaten by Kentucky (4-0-2 C-USA) and Charlotte (4-1-1). So this match has important conference tournament seeding implications.

It also offers a chance to bump up the RPI. New Mexico’s dominating 4-0 win over Old Dominion last week pushed it from 30th to 17th in this week’s index. A road win over UAB, 27th in the RPI, would further help UNM’s possible NCAA Tournament seeding.

But beating the Blazers is problematic.

“They’re an attacking team,” Fishbein said. “They commit a lot of guys forward. We have to defend. We have to play in their half and get at their back four. If we’re firing and finishing chances, we’ll be tough.”

UNM and UAB are tied for 27th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 1.86 goals a game. Sophomore midfielder Chris Wehan leads the Lobos with seven goals, while Blazer junior forward Freddy Ruiz has scored eight.

But the Lobos also rank 11th in the NCAA in shutout percentage and 10th in goals against average. Defenders Matthew Gibbons Riley McGovern and Nick Miele have been key in front of goalkeepers Patrick Poblete, a senior, and Jason Beaulieu, a freshman.

“Both have been good,” Fishbein said of his ‘keepers. “Pat’s healthy and had an excellent game against Old Dominion. He has a lot of experience. We feel good about the position we are in.”

Fishbein said today’s game “is a big one. A good test. We’re playing well. I’m excited for it. It sets the tone for the rest of the season.”