After an extensive road trip, New Mexico gets to come home, but they won’t have much time to rest.
Following nearly a month of road games all over the nation, the Lobos get to play in front of home fans for the first time in the 2016-2017 season, and will be facing off against a New Mexico State team with plenty of familiar faces.
“New Mexico is kind of a small soccer community and a lot of their players are from Albuquerque,” Lobo head coach Heather Dyche said. “For a lot of our kids it’s their old teammates, and for me it’s kids that I used to coach and families that I care a lot about. They’re going to come here and bring their Aggie pride. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
There will be 31 total local New Mexicans (14 for UNM and 17 for NMSU) on the field for the Rio Grande Rivalry contest, and Dyche said she expects Lobo fans to be sharing the bleachers with plenty of Aggie fans for the home opener.
However, Dyche wants the excitement of what she labeled as a “healthy rivalry” to limit the emotions and adrenaline associated with playing in front of the home crowd,
“For us, you know those players, but they also get to play in front of their families, so I think they’re going to have extra energy and extra excitement,” Dyche said. “Any time you add that, there’s an element of emotion that gets played into the game. And because of that, sometimes soccer goes out the window.”
If the in-state rivalry wasn’t already loaded with enough tension over state pride, a father and daughter on opposing teams makes the game even more interesting. UNM assistant coach Paul Maestas surely expects his daughter, Valerie Maestas, to do well in the contest, but might not want the NMSU freshman forward to have too good of a game against the Lobo defense.
Specifically, one player New Mexico (3-2-2) can’t lose sight of is Aileen Galicia. In NMSU’s last game, Galicia single-handedly powered the Aggie offense, netting all three of the game’s goals in a 3-0 contest against Idaho State.
“Anybody who has a hat trick in a game is doing something special,” Dyche said. “So we have to get on game film, and get a better idea of how she’s playing and come up with a strategy on how to stop her, because nobody has done it yet.”
The Lobos also beat the Bengals earlier this year in a high scoring 4-3 affair.
Dyche said people have been teasing her and the team about being away for so long to start the season off. She said the ribbing has continued in the week leading up to the home opener.
“Everyone’s been kind of joking that we’re not even going to be able to find the field because we haven’t been here in so long,” Dyche said.
Once the Lobos do find the home field, the squad will have to focus on some changes that have been implemented to accommodate injuries to the team’s offensive strategy.
Junior defender Alexa Cabrales provided UNM with a unique capability to score from throw-ins due to Cabrales’ ability to launch the overhead throws deep and with accuracy, without much effort.
The head coach said at times it didn’t look like Cabrales had a spine because she could bend so far back and just chuck the ball right where it needed to be, with ease.
However, without the junior, UNM will have to find other ways to threaten opposing defenses without the advantage of out-of-bounds play calls.
“We changed up our formation a little bit to try to be a little bit more diverse in the way we attack and also to go into conference play with the ability to adjust systems,” Dyche said. “I feel like this is kind of the time of the year where we can try things and change things. I thought the team did a good job of that.”
Dyche’s new looks will be featured in the contest against NMSU with first touch scheduled for 7 p.m. MT.
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Liam_CE.