The University of New Mexico Men’s Soccer team will face its toughest test of the season on Sunday against the No. 3 ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Kentucky at 11 a.m..
The Lobos are coming off of a 2-1 win over South Carolina last Saturday, a victory which broke a four-game losing streak and came on the heels of the announcement that there would be no spring season for the team, a decision that further angered supporters of the program.
“Our guy’s response has been really positive, they’re working, playing for each other,” head coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “We have to set ourselves up for a good run in the conference tournament, we have to first qualify and what better way than going on the road and playing the third ranked team in the country. It’s exciting, and that’s kind of been the story of the whole season.”
UNM will look to put that aside and claim what would be arguably one of the biggest victories for the program in recent memory. The Wildcats enter the game with a record of 11-1-1 (4-1-0 C-USA) and are known for their defense first style. UK has only allowed six goals so far this season, an average of less than half a goal per game and have recorded ten shutouts in only 13 games.
Offensively for the Wildcats, the Lobos will have to find a way to shut down JJ Williams, who leads the team with 11 goals and was dubbed by ncaa.com as one of the ten most prolific scorers in men’s soccer. Williams has almost half of his team’s goals, with the team total sitting at 25. He’s a player that Fishbein has said has improved every year, starting as an average player his freshman season, but someone who is finding his stride now in his junior year.
Fishbein described the style of the Wildcats as defense-first, and said Kentucky waits back and looks to exploit the mistakes made by the other team.
If the Lobos want to pull off the upset, they’ll have to find a way to keep a defense that has given up 24 goals this season, an average of nearly two per game. They will also need the offensive leaders to show up, something that they haven’t been able to consistently count on this season. Freshman Omar Grey, who hasn’t scored in over a month, still leads the team with five goals. He scored five in his first seven collegiate games, but hasn’t been able to maintain that torrid pace.
“This is a team that’s about challenges, everything’s been a challenge, a little bit more than hoped, but I’m excited for the guys,” Fishbein said.
If the Lobos are able to pull out a victory, it would be the first win over a team ranked in the top five nationally since the Lobos beat No. 5 Charlotte in the C-USA Conference tournament in 2016.
The game can be seen live on Watch ESPN through SEC Network+ and is accessible for free with a qualifying TV package.
Cameron Goeldner is a sports beat reporter and photographer for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer, women’s basketball, softball and the Albuquerque Isotopes, but also contributes content for baseball, basketball, football and track and field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @goeldfinger.