The New Mexico men’s soccer team will travel to California this weekend to open up its regular season against one of the toughest competitors in the country: UCLA.
The Bruins are ranked No. 1 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll.
Last year the Bruins advanced to their program’s ninth College Cup final. This season they kept a lot of their talent, as seven of their top 10 scorers will be returning.
UCLA is just one of six teams that UNM will play that made it to the NCAA tournament last year. This doesn’t make for an easy schedule, but the Lobos are enthusiastic.
“I’m really excited about our schedule,” UNM head coach Jeremy Fishbein said earlier this month. “We get to test ourselves early against some top teams, both on the road and at home.”
The Bruins already played two exhibition matches. Their first was against the Mexican U-17 national team, which ended in a 1-1 draw. The second was against the San Francisco Dons, against whom the Bruins came out on top with a 2-1 victory.
UCLA is looking strong again this year, but despite the Bruins’ achievements, the Lobos have shown they have no problem keeping up.
The Lobos hosted UCLA last year and fell 2-1. However, UNM dominated the game with an 18-3 edge in shots and an 8-2 lead in corner kicks. That game was an example of what Fishbein said happened last season: “the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts.”
Two years ago the Lobos won the Conference USA regular season title and made it all the way to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year was supposed to be an opportunity for the Lobos to build on that success, but things did not go as planned. Although the Lobos held a 11-6-1 overall record, their efforts were not enough to earn them a ticket to the NCAA tournament. It was the first time the Lobos missed the tournament since 2008.
It was a bit discouraging, but Fishbein said he believes his team has what it takes to be successful this year.
Like UCLA, the Lobos also finished their preseason undefeated, with two wins against Air Force and Grand Canyon, and a draw with Denver.
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
During these exhibitions Fishbein said he was happy with the cohesiveness of the group and he felt confident that things will sharpen up as the season progresses.
Assistant coach Mike Graczyk agreed with Fishbein and said he think the Lobos have a chance of defeating any opponent as long as they keep working together.
“What I love the most about this group is that it is a team-first group,” he said. “They score together and they keep the ball out of the net together.”
Isabel Gonzalez is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @cisabelg.