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Returning senior goalie Victor Rodriguez attempts to save a shot by returning sophomore forward James Rodgers. Both players will serve suspensions in the upcoming season, which coach Jeremy Fishbein says will test the depth of his squad.

Suspensions sully season start

sports@dailylobo.com

This season, the UNM men’s soccer team will feel the repercussions of last year’s third-round NCAA tournament game.

Senior goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez is suspended for the first two games of the season, as well as the first NCAA tournament game, while sophomore forward James Rodgers is suspended for the first three games of the season.

The suspensions are from last season’s NCAA tournament game against the University of South Florida, during which the Lobos lost 6-5 in a shootout. After the conclusion of the game, Rodriguez shouted at a USF player and then punched him in the face. As for Rodgers, he lowered his shoulder while being restrained and bowled over a referee.

Head coach Jeremy Fishbein has accepted the penalties and said the players are putting last year’s mishap behind them.

“We moved on; to me whether it was just or not, it’s irrelevant at this point,” Fishbein said. “We’ve learned our lessons in that we can’t make mistakes, and can’t put yourself in a situation where your actions may be viewed to an extreme like they were in that situation.”

Rodriguez said that after last season’s incident, he’s a more mature player and person.

“I’ve replayed that day over and over. I made a mistake; fortunately, it happened and I learned a lot from it,” Rodriguez said. “If the situation comes up again I know how to handle it.”

Fishbein said the loss of Rodriguez and Rodgers will give other players the chance to step up and play big for the team.

“We’ll miss those guys, but there are guys ready to step in and get the job done,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein said another problem facing UNM is the depth the Lobos have, as some players might not cope with playing so little.

“Our biggest challenge is staying unified, because guys aren’t going to be all thrilled with their playing time,” Fishbein said. “When you have the depth that we have, there’s going to be great players not playing the minutes they want to play.”

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Senior forward Devon Sandoval said the team is very tight and he doesn’t think the Lobos will have any problems playing as a team.
“We’re definitely unified and we’re a mature team,” Sandoval said. “We have a lot of experience, I think, that will help us a lot this year.”

Last season, the Lobos finished undefeated with an 18-0-4 record, and at one point the team was ranked No. 1 in the country. This year, UNM is ranked sixth in the nation by the NCAA in the preseason poll.

Sandoval said there is not any more stress on the players than in any other season.

“I don’t think there’s any added pressure,” Sandoval said. “The pressure is just to be our best every game and play up to our potential. If we do that, the results will show.”

Senior forward Blake Smith said despite the loss of key players Lance Rozeboom and Michael Green to graduation, he still thinks the Lobos can be one of the best teams in the nation.

“At the same time last year, I said this team was going to win a national championship and we got pretty darn close,” Smith said. “I think we’re going to be great again, if not better.”

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