The New Mexico men’s soccer team has a nearly even split of new and returning players, and they are likely itching to showcase their talents in some upcoming exhibition matches.
Head coach Jeremy Fishbein said the coaching staff is just as excited, and all the work that has been put in since January will finally be put into action on Saturday, Aug. 12 against Air Force.
“It’s a new season; we’re real excited about the team,” he said. “The returning guys have really put in a lot of work and they are prepared — and I’m excited about these new guys and seeing them get their first college minutes.”
Fishbein said there are 27 student-athletes — 13 newcomers and 14 returning players — and each will be looking to make an impact.
The team will be without some key players that wound up in the professional ranks, such as former Lobos Niko Hansen, Patrick Khouri and Chris Wehan.
Inevitably, teams have to manage arrivals and departures by trying to fit new pieces together, but Fishbein said he doesn’t view the current situation as one where the team is trying to replace the players they have left.
He said the returning players will be better than they were the previous season, and the new additions will bring a different skill set as well.
“It’s a very different feel for this year’s team,” Fishbein said. “We have the ability to be a little bit tougher than we were last year. I really like this group.”
The biggest challenge may be seeing how quickly the men can come together to become a true team, rather than a collection of talented individuals.
Junior defenseman Aaron Herrera recently played in the U-20 World Cup for the United States. His experience and the experience of others that have represented their country in national competitions should serve the team well.
New Mexico will look to build on the success of a Conference-USA title and an NCAA berth last season as well as continue to impress academically. Making sure the student-athletes grow both on the field and in class has been a staple of the program.
Fishbein, who is entering his 16th year at the helm at New Mexico, said the job of the coaching staff is to develop impactful men that the University, the state and individuals they encounter will be proud of — something the head coach seemed to place special emphasis on.
“That’s the real reward of coaching,” he said. “The wins, the loses, the championships — they are pretty short-lived, but the things that have the greatest staying power are the people you’ve been able to work with.”
The head coach said there have been several former players that have had a strong personality and leadership qualities — and this year’s team is no different. He said there isn’t just one or two larger-than-life individuals that will drive the team, rather many men that will make the team exceptional in a variety of ways.
It will be up to the coaches to mesh the players into a cohesive unit and handle disappointments and successes, but Fishbein said everyone seems to be on the right page, has gotten off to a great start and is excited to see how Saturday pans out.
When asked what kind of feel the exhibition matches might have, Fishbein said there are no such thing as “friendlies” with this group.
There is sure to be mutual respect between the schools, but the head coach said players will have something to prove, both individually and collectively.
The match against Air Force is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Aug. 12 at the UNM Soccer Complex.
The other exhibition matches will take place against the Colorado School of Mines and Grand Canyon during the upcoming week.
The New Mexico men’s soccer team will begin the season as the 20th ranked team in the nation and was tabbed to finish second in the league in the Conference USA Preseason Coaches’ Poll, according to a release.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.