With three draws and two losses in its last five matches, the University of New Mexico men’s soccer team begins its Conference USA Tournament title defense against a familiar foe in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, Nov. 8, in Norfolk, Virginia.
UNM (8-5-4, 3-3-2 C-USA) finished the regular season with a 1-0 loss against Old Dominion and are now set to play fourth seeded Charlotte (6-4-6, 2-1-5 C-USA) in the quarterfinals of the 2017 C-USA Tournament.
This is the second time the Lobos will be playing the 49ers in a span of two weeks. The Lobos last played the Charlotte on senior night, Oct. 28, in a goalless draw that went into double overtime.
Out of the seven teams competing in the tournament, a tie breaker was needed to settle the seeding between Charlotte and New Mexico. Since both teams were equal on 11 points, it came down to goal deficit and Charlotte acquired the higher seed with a larger goal differential than New Mexico.
For seeding purposes that meant Charlotte was awarded the fourth seed, while New Mexico settled in as the number five.
But the Lobos were also ranked fifth last year, and ended up defeating top-seeded Charlotte before winning against Florida International in the final to lift up the trophy.
During the match on Oct. 28, the 49ers outshot the Lobos 19-16, but UNM senior goalkeeper Jason Beaulieu made seven saves on that night to notch this fifth shutout of the season, raising his overall tally to 22 career shutouts.
Leading the 49ers offence is redshirt-junior Daniel Bruce with six goals and four assists, tallying 16 points. Sophomore Teddy Chaouche and junior Tommy Madden are tied for second on the team with three goals each.
Defensively, C-USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and goalkeeper, Elliot Panicco leads the Pioneers as he has posted four shutouts between the posts this season. Panicco has had 13 career shutouts.
Leading the Lobos attack is junior Aaron Herrera with five goals and five assists tallying 15 points. Not only is he one of the standout players in offence, Herrera usually starts at right-back and has anchored the defense, which has only allowed 17 goals this season.
The other key member in the defense is keeper Beaulieu. This season, he has earned two C-USA Defensive Player of the Week awards. He is currently ranked 19th in the country in save percentage (.817), second in C-USA, and second in the league in saves per game (4.47).
Offensively, the Lobos are going through a drought not having scored in their last four games. Their last goal was scored by Herrera in a 1-1 draw against UCLA.
Given the knockout format of the tournament, the Lobos will look to get the first goal of the game. This season, the Lobos are 6-0-1 when scoring first. Overall, New Mexico is 171-14-22 playing under head coach Jeremy Fishbein.
UNM will have to open up the game strongly with their offense firing on all cylinders. Since freshmen Nick Barreiro has slotted well in the right-back position, Herrera might be playing in an advanced role given his eye for goal.
Wednesday's match is slated to begin at noon, with the winner moving on to the semi-finals to play top seed Florida International, a team which is unbeaten this season. The semi-final game is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 10.
Ajinkya Patil is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ajinkyapatil_16.