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Smarter tactics lead to wins

The UNM men’s soccer team is once again among the nation’s elite programs.

In the last few years, the Lobos have had some great team lineups but have not lived up to their hype. This year the Lobos are ranked No. 6 in the nation, and have yet to lose a game with a 9-0-2 record.

The Lobos are finally doing everything right: winning games on the road, coming back late in games, and putting away teams they should be beating.

In past years, UNM has been plagued with poor finishing and a knack for letting teams that they are better than beat them because they could not find a way to score.

This year is different. The Lobos have already scored 24 goals from nine different players, and have only allowed eight goals all season.

Forward Devon Sandoval is leading the way with six goals and six assists for the team, and always seems to make a game-changing play when it’s needed most.

At times Sandoval seems to slow down the attack, but like all good forwards the team can count on him to put the ball in the back of the net.

Junior Blake Smith has chipped in with five goals, including three last weekend.

Forward James Rogers has been the surprise package of the season so far. When he steps onto the field, the game immediately changes for the better, and like Sandoval, Rogers seems to find the net when it’s most needed; both of his goals have been game winners.

Defender Kyle Venter has been the most consistent player on the field this year. With three goals, he is the second-leading scorer on the team and has stifled nearly every attack opponents have thrown at him.

Midfielders Lance Rozeboom and Michael Green have found a perfect combination in the middle and work well with the forwards.

In seasons past, Rozeboom and Green have provided a lot of UNM’s goals, but neither have a goal this season. They focus more on defense and don’t have to push forward as much this year because the offense is finally doing its job.

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Previously, UNM has had a non-conference schedule littered with top-25 teams, and while the Lobos should be praised for their undefeated record, it must be noted that they have only played one team this year in the top 25.

UNM tied No.3 Akron last month in a double overtime game on the road, its toughest test so far this season.

UNM was outplayed for much of the game until Akron’s Darren Mattocks got a red card in the 58th minute. Playing with an extra man, the Lobos were still dominated and Akron forced a string of great saves from goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez and a goal-line clearance.

With 10 minutes left, Venter popped up with a game-tying header and after the goal UNM pushed forward for the winner and in overtime and took control of the game. If it were not for that red card, the Lobos arguably would have lost the game.

That game, though, shows why the team will be successful this postseason.

The Lobos have scored nine of their goals with 15 minutes or less on the clock and always seem to score when the game matters.
They have come back to win in four games this year and never seem to give up until the game is over. In every game this season, they have been the fitter team and it shows with how many late goals they have scored.

UNM is winning on the road and should dominate conference play with Cal State Bakersfield the only team that might be challenging.

I don’t think the team will be able to keep this undefeated streak through the whole season, as they will probably drop one game, but they will be ranked in the top 10 when the season finishes.

The Lobos are finally playing soccer the way it was meant to be played. They’re being smart; they’re keeping possession of the ball and switching the field, playing tough defense and scoring late in games.

It’s too hard to say what they will do in the NCAA tournament, but I can guarantee that if the Lobos keep this up, we will play at home, at least until the quarterfinals. With a packed stadium, I think the Lobos will be impossible to beat.

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