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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Soccer: No margin for error in opener

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico men’s soccer midfielder Ben McKendry, right, battles for possession against Denver’s Jordan Schweitzer on Saturday. The Lobos play Akron at the UNM Soccer Complex today at 7 p.m.

A battle between two ranked soccer foes kicks off the 2014 season tonight.

The New Mexico men’s team will officially open its season against the Akron Zips with a home match at the UNM Soccer Complex.

The No. 13-ranked Zips lost both of its exhibition games this season. Akron first fell to Maryland 3-0 and then to Syracuse 2-1.

The No. 5 Lobos finished the final exhibition game last weekend with a 1-1 tie against Denver. The Lobos got every result during their exhibition season: one win, one loss and one tie. These are not the ideal results for top-ranked teams, but the exhibition games do not affect a team’s regular-season record.

Head coach Jeremy Fishbein said although his team did not score as much as he would have liked, it did create opportunities. He said he is certain that when it counts, his players will find the back of the net.

“It’s going to be about us taking chances,” he said.

Fishbein admits that because of the team the Lobos are playing against, there will not be a large margin for error during tonight’s game.

Both teams know what is like to be successful. The Lobos have had 10 NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 12 years, made it to the national championship game in 2005 and returned to the College Cup semifinals last season. The Zips won the NCAA championship in 2010.

“Akron is a team much like us. They are going to want the ball. They are going to want to break us down… It’s a proud team,” Fishbein said. “They are coming here with every intention of being better than us, and that’s good. I want to play somebody like that.”

Lobo forward Kevin Correa said the Zips have good players and made a big name for themselves, but he feels confident that his own team has what it takes to win.

The three exhibition games and this week’s practices have helped him and his teammates feel not only ready, but also excited, he said.

“We had little mistakes that we needed to work on. Each game went by and we kept working on different things,” he said. “And the things we were missing for the game against Denver, we had this whole week to adjust.”

The Lobos have focused on adjusting themselves and fixing mistakes this week, but Fishbein said, right now it’s all about doing less rather than more. He said he wants his players to be excited and fresh for the game.

Of course nobody can predict the result, but Fishbein said he has a lot of confidence in his team and hopes they will “flip that switch” tonight.

“I have faith in them, but only time will tell,” he said. “We’ll know Friday night where we are at.”

Isabel Gonzalez is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at sports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @cisabelg.