If defense wins championships, as the old adage goes, then the other three teams in the NCAA College Cup better watch out. New Mexico hasn’t given up a goal this tournament.
The defense came through yet again for head coach Jeremy Fishbein’s squad, which secured a spot among the four remaining teams in college soccer with Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over Washington in the Elite Eight.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Fishbein said. “We came into — I wouldn’t say a hostile environment because I think this is a great fan base — but we came into a really challenging situation.”
UNM, seeded seventh in the bracket, now returns to the College Cup to battle No. 4 Notre Dame this Friday in Philadelphia. The Fighting Irish advanced following a 2-1 win over Michigan State. No. 5 Maryland and No. 8 Virginia, who also advanced with 2-1 wins over their quarterfinal opponents, will play in the other national semifinal.
The national championship game takes place Sunday, and all College Cup games will be contested at PPL Park in Philadelphia, with a possible rematch. In 2005 Maryland beat UNM 1-0 to win the national title.
After holding three teams scoreless, the Lobos make their second-ever trip to the College Cup. UNM first shut out George Mason 1-0 in the quarterfinals then blanked Penn State 2-0. Against Washington, UNM held the No. 2 seed to one first-half shot and one corner kick.
The Lobos capitalized on the opportunity at the 37th minute when midfielder Ben McKendry tallied the game’s only goal. Forward James Rogers brought the ball toward the right side of the box and sent it to defender Oniel Fisher. He then passed the ball to McKendry, who hit a one-touch shot from point-blank range for the score.
McKendry recorded his fifth goal of the year while Fisher, who had only one assist through the first 19 games, has a goal and an assist in UNM’s last two outings.
Michael Lisch stopped three Washington shots for his 11th shutout this year, which also lifted the goalkeeper to third place in UNM’s list for most in a season.
Those three saves all came in the second half when Washington amped up its offense. The Huskies tried seven more shots in the half, but the UNM defense endured the attack.
Rogers and midfielder Christopher Wehan nearly scored insurance goals late in the game. Rogers’s shot sailed wide of the net, while Washington Ryan Herman saved Wehan’s breakaway shot attempt.
UNM finished with 16 shots for the game and Herman made four saves.
UNM also endured frigid winter conditions in the Pacific Northwest with temperatures around 25 degrees. The playing surface froze and many players opted to wear turf shoes rather than regular soccer cleats.
NCAA College Cup Semifinals
No. 7 New Mexico vs. No. 4 Notre Dame, 3 p.m. MST
No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 8 Virginia
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m. MST
All games shown on ESPNU/WatchESPN