The UNM Men’s soccer team failed to register a goal against the Denver University Pioneer’s in Saturday's spring exhibition, dropping the match by a score of 3-0.
The Lobos also lost their spring opener 4-1 against Phoenix Rising earlier this month and, though the team couldn't bounce back for a win against Denver, UNM head coach Jeremy Fishbein said he has been pleased by what he has seen especially in the first half of both matches.
He said it has been "an interesting first two games" and they were similar to each other in some respects. Fishbein said the opener was a 1-1 tie at halftime before he and the coaching staff started substituting players so they could make assessments.
Similarly, the Lobos and Pioneers found themselves heading into the locker room on Saturday with the score all knotted up again before the lineups changed an the evaluation process took over in the second half.
At the start of the game, both the Lobos and Pioneers brought their A-game, setting a competitive tone that persisted throughout the match. UNM junior midfielder Simon Spangenberg put pressure on Denver’s goal early in the game and nearly scored a goal, but had his attempt stopped by Pioneer goalie Nick Gardner.
Gardner continued to be a defensive force against New Mexico — which continued applying pressure early and often — blocking and catching every goal attempt kicked his way. Lobo goalkeeper Ford Parker was on his game as well, protecting his goal to keep the score even at 0-0 going into halftime.
In the second half, tensions seemed to reach a high level on the field, with both teams keeping the same energy it displayed in the first half, pushing forward for those goal attempts.
Parker made saves back-to-back but couldn’t hold off the Denver offense for long as the Pioneers began finding the back of the net. Denver midfielder Kenny Akamatsu pushed the ball into the goal to notch the first score of the game about 10 minutes into the second half.
Emotions appeared to spill over, resulting in the referees pulling yellow cards on both teams in an attempt to settle things down after it looked like some not-so-friendly words were exchanged on the field.
Denver pulled away in the second half, breaking the Lobo defense for two more goal. Forward Andre Shinyashiki was the leading scorer, tallying two goals on the day for the Pioneers en route to a 3-0 victory over the Lobos.
"I think Denver had four opportunities on the game and they scored three," Fishbein said. "It's good that these these are happening now."
While players and coaches likely want to win every match they compete in, the head coach said that isn't necessarily the goal of spring soccer — citing growth and development as some of the primary focuses during this period.
Mistakes are something that may have been expected as Fishbein said the Lobos started five new players against Denver. The head coach seemed to chalk it up to the growth process, saying "sometimes you have to take a step back to move two steps forward."
Fishbein said he feels the team has started taking those steps and is optimistic about seeing how well players respond to new situations. Parker is just one of many players getting adjusted to his role on the team, something the head coach seems to be playing close attention to.
"(Parker) invested two years being an understudy and now he's the starting goal keeper — it's very different." Fishbein said. "A lot of challenges for a lot of guys."
The Lobos have played two quality opponents to open the spring season and Fishbein said things won't get any easier when the team hosts Air Force on Saturday at 11 a.m.
He said the Falcons are a defensive-oriented team that will require the Lobos to take care of the ball and make good decisions during the matchup as his team continues to mature.
It is one of three remaining games this spring UNM will have to work with in preparing for the fall. Fishbein said everything that happens now is all working toward collecting a win later this year on Friday, Aug. 24 — the team's season opener.
Alanie Rael is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers men's and women's skiing, but also contributes content for football. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AllyRael.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at sports @dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.