There will be no slogans, no speeches of atonement. Instead, New Mexico Lobos men’s soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein views the 2015 season with a healthy appetite.
“We’re going to be young,” said Fishbein, whose team has already begun its spring preparations for the fall season. “There has to be a real hunger about us. But the hunger is for the present. The hunger is not a result of the previous year. It’s not a revenge thing. We don’t have anything to prove. … You’ve got to be careful creating these monikers – unproven business, respect. That’s not the case.”
Instead, Fishbein makes another case.
“My belief is that this is the best program in the country,” Fishbein said. “I believe we do the best job in the country developing the whole person, educationally, their ability to be a community member, their ability to compete. I think it’s the best because we’ve done it without the highest profile kids.”
Last year’s team produced five players who signed professional soccer contracts and it recorded a 3.44 grade point average last fall, highest among UNM men’s programs.
But the Lobos, coming off a Final Four appearance in 2013 and ranked fifth in the 2014 preseason, failed to make the NCAA Tournament last year. They finished fourth in the nine-team Conference USA.
“I think at times we thought, ‘Oh, we’re so good, and these are good guys, and it’s just going to happen,'” the coach said. “You probably kept thinking it was going to happen and there maybe wasn’t always that sense of urgency that there needs to be in athletics.”
He said as UNM has upped its talent level, players develop individual goals beyond just the team.
“It’s not that they’re trying to achieve things at the expense of their teammates,” Fishbein said. “But they put a lot of pressure on themselves. … I think they are about the team, but they are also about themselves a little bit. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just managing that, getting that chemistry right.”
Fishbein has added six players (with a couple of more likely to come) to this season’s chemistry mix.
Las Cruces’ Aaron Herrera, who will arrive from Real Salt Lake’s academy in Arizona, has experience as a defender for the U.S. under-18 national team.
“He was in residential camp with them,” Fishbein said. “He was in the player pool. He’s really developed into a top player in this country, and it’s exciting that he wanted to be back here and represent his own state.”
Coming from a bit farther away is Brazil’s Yuri Domiciano, who arrives via Iowa Western Community College, where he was a junior college All-American. Fishbein’s interest in him grew even more when he found out Domiciano was an academic All-American as well. The defender has already been in Albuquerque a couple of months.
Midfielders Kasper Kajermo (from Sweden) and Simon Spangenber (of Belgium) both had pro contract offers back home. But, as part of a growing trend, have decided to attend college and play in the U.S.
“They could’ve signed professional contracts – not huge money,” Fishbein said. “But I think they made a real educated decision and said, ‘Hey, we can continue with our education and our soccer, and we don’t have to give up our dreams.’ ”
UNM also lured goalkeeper Andy Rios out of the Houston Dynamo Academy.
“I think he felt this was a good place for him culturally,” Fishbein said. “He’s bilingual, he likes the diversity of the community. He’s a great student and we’ve had a lot of success developing goalkeepers.”
Then there’s midfielder Devin Boyce of St. Louis. He recruited UNM as much as it sought him.
“That was really a gift,” Fishbein said. “He’s from a family that is so passionate about soccer and they had really done their research. They felt like this was an environment where their kid was really going to get pushed. They’re serious about the education, serious about the soccer. They kind of came to us. We thought it was kind of a longshot getting a top-notch kid from St. Louis. They said, ‘Hey, this is where we want our kid to go.’ ”
Throw the newcomers into the mix with a group of returners without a senior and only a couple of juniors, and with eight freshmen who redshirted in 2014, and you have the foundation of the 2015 team.
“I think we’ll be really good,” Fishbein said. “There’s a little more uncertainty, but I believe in this group.”
That’s good because UNM will open its fall schedule at UCLA, an NCAA Tournament finalist in 2014.
“There’s no hiding, that’s for sure,” Fishbein said.