Even with four top players gone, the UNM men’s soccer team is not worrying. Players are filling in holes and new leaders are emerging.
One of these leaders is defender and team captain Mathew Gibbons.
Last year was Gibbon’s third straight season playing at least 1,800 minutes. He was an NSCAA All-Region Third Team selection and a Second Team All-Conference USA selection.
This year Gibbons is a part of the preseason All-Conference USA team along with teammate Ben McKendry.
But the New Zealand native impressed head coach Jeremy Fishbein even before he joined the Lobos back in 2011.
“He had come to the United States with a New Zealand team. I watched him play, and from that first game I knew that was our guy,” Fishbein said. “He is a leader and a warrior. He just had a presence about him and was somebody I wanted to coach.”
Gibbons’ father was a professional rugby player, and a love for athletics was passed on to his son. Gibbons said growing up he played any sport he could, the main ones being cricket and rugby. But he finally began his soccer career when he was 8 years old.
“My brother, who is a couple years older than me, was playing soccer. And I looked up to him a lot, so that kind of got me into it,” he said.
Before joining the Lobos, Gibbons was a member of the New Zealand National Team and participated in the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.
“That was pretty crazy,” he said. “The buzz around the World Cup was pretty cool. Playing in front of a lot of fans. We actually played Nigeria in Nigeria in front of 30,000 people, so that was pretty fun.”
Although Gibbons says he enjoyed his experience with New Zealand, he says he has a great time day to day with the Lobos and hopes to lead the team as best as he can to what will hopefully be another successful season.
Fishbein said there was no question Gibbons will be a great leader this year because of his attitude and mentality. He described Gibbons as a competitor and a skillful player who makes everyone around him better.
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Teammate McKendry says Gibbons is a funny guy with lots of energy and also describes him as a good leader.
“It’s the things that the fans don’t see.” McKendry said. “It’s the locker room before the game. Just walking into practice, team meals … It’s all those little things behind the scenes that lead the group and set the tone.”
When asked about his thoughts on the team ranking — No. 5 in the NSCAA Preseason Poll — Gibbons said he was happy for the team although conference is a long way away.
Regarding his personal honor of being named on the All-Conference team, Gibbons said he didn’t read too much into it.
“It’s a funny one when you get an award before you play any games … I’ll just see how the season goes,” he said.
Isabel Gonzalez is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @cisabelg.