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UNM senior Blake Smith runs formations in preseason practice. The Lobo men’s soccer team is ranked the No. 2 team in the nation by College Soccer News, and faces off tonight against UCLA, which is ranked No. 2 by the National Coaches Association of America.

Season kicks off with No. 2 rank

The UNM men’s soccer team will face off against UCLA in a battle between two of the top-ranked schools in the country.

College Soccer News ranks UNM as the No. 2 men’s team in the nation, while the National Soccer Coaches Association of America picked UCLA as No. 2 and the Lobos sixth.

UNM comes off a 2011 season with 47 goals scored and is returning with 89 percent of that firepower, but UCLA shut out its opponents eight consecutive times a year ago and has a College Soccer News preseason All-American in senior defender Matt Wiet.

Today’s season-opening matchup between the Lobos and Bruins should kick off the Pac-12 Network’s soccer broadcasting schedule with a bang, but Lobo head coach Jeremy Fishbein said he is concerned with one thing: his program.

“It’s probably going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and maybe a player doing something special; it’s all you can ask for,” said Fishbein, entering his 11th season as head coach. “Our focus is on us right now, rather than our opponent, and we believe if we play to our potential and make good decisions, that we’ll be successful in the game.”

The UNM-UCLA men’s game will be the second game of a soccer doubleheader broadcast for the new Pac-12 Network, following the Gonzaga-Washington contest.

“For the younger guys, it’s going to be fun and exciting and probably create some nerves,” said senior forward Blake Smith, referring to the broadcast of the game. “For everybody else, we’re not even going to notice it.”

Smith and senior Devon Sandoval return after a 2011 campaign in which they combined for 18 of the Lobos’ 47 goals. Smith led the way with 10 goals, helping propel UNM to an 18-0-4 season and a spot in the College Cup round of 16.

“We are looking forward to the challenge of playing New Mexico on Friday night,” said UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo. “They are a great program and are coming off a tremendous 2011 season. They are returning a lot of starters from last year’s team and it should be a great matchup and a great early season test for our players.”

The Lobos will need some of that scoring prowess against the Bruins, who held 12 opponents scoreless and played from Oct. 28 to Dec. 3 last year without surrendering a goal.

“This is going to be about as good of a college match as you’re going to get,” Salcedo said. “For this to be our first official game, it’s going to be important that we come out with intensity.”

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Fishbein said the most important thing the team takes from the game is how well it plays.

“You know, it’s the first game of the season — you can’t read into it and you can’t react either way,” Fishbein said. “You can’t be too high if you win and you can’t be too low if you don’t get a result. Right now, it’s focusing on being our best, preparing, being fresh, being excited and having everybody ready to go at kickoff.”


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