The University of New Mexico men's soccer team won its exhibition opener as it took the pitch in what was likely a welcome break from potential distractions surrounding the program's future.
Men's soccer was one of four UNM Athletics programs slated to be cut following the 2018-19 season after the UNM Board of Regents rendered a unanimous vote last month — though another meeting will be held Friday after the Office of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas claimed the July 19 meeting violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act.
But all of the outside factors seemed to have no effect on the team, as UNM focused in the second half, catching fire over the final 45 minutes to cruise to a 5-2 victory over the West Texas A&M Buffaloes.
UNM head coach Jeremy Fishbein said he thought it was an interesting game, noting that the players had been going hard in the days leading up to the exhibition and it was their first chance to play against someone else.
New Mexico struck first in the match, notching a goal in the 19th minute from sophomore transfer Matt Puig, who also assisted on two goals to help the cause.
West Texas A&M quickly found the equalizer as Michael Garcia beat Lobo goal keeper Parker Ford to square the score up at 1-1, where it remained as the teams broke for the half.
Lobo senior Antoine Vial said Fishbein told the team during halftime that the first goal in the second half would be really important.
And Vial appeared to take note as he wasted no time putting the Lobos back in the driver's seat, netting a goal less than four minutes into the second half after Puig set the table for him.
Puig created another scoring opportunity shortly thereafter and freshman Omar Grey delivered, striking the ball and beating the keeper to put New Mexico up 3-1.
The Buffaloes answered in the 54th minute to make it a one-goal game again, but could not keep pace as the Lobos continued to generate scoring chances.
Vial tallied his second goal of the match and sophomore Nick Taylor capped the scoring in the final minute of play to deliver a 5-2 exhibition win for the Lobos.
"I think it was really important for us to come out as a group," Vial said. "We were really, really happy to come here and show everyone that we are still here."
Fishbein said there were plenty of positives to be taken from the match and thought the contributions were pretty balanced, but acknowledged the team can't count on scoring five goals every time out.
"Of course you're happy with the result," Fishbein said. "There are some first game little things that we need to iron out defensively."
The head coach said the opposing team had some really good attackers, but the goals given up were conceded due to self-inflicted errors, rather than getting broken down. He said the team would focus on the positives and learn from the mistakes as the season opener draws near.
Fishbein said there still could be some late additions to the roster, pending some players receiving final clearance to play.
The level of competition will probably ratchet up significantly as the Lobos hit the road to take on Denver on Wednesday and Air Force on Saturday to close out the exhibition schedule.
New Mexico will begin the season by hosting Seattle on Friday, Aug. 24 in the opener, followed by a home match the ensuing Monday against the University of Washington.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and football and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.