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New Mexico Lobos Men’s Soccer – at the Lobo Soccer Complex

When/Who: 7 p.m., Friday – Lobos vs. Villanova

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By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

There will be a DJ in the parking lot revving up the Lobos fans’ motors prior to kickoff, but the sound of soccer should reach another level inside the Lobo Soccer Complex when Jeremy Fishbein’s Lobos take to the field.

The drums will be beating as usual, but UNM also is giving out vuvuzelas – those South American horns -- to the first 500 fans through the gates.  The bugling should begin when Fishbein’s 2013 Lobos take to the pitch for Friday’s season opener, but expect the blasts to reach deafening levels when Fishbein’s Lobos violate Villanova’s net.

For sure, Fishbein is hoping to hear the vuvuzelas loud and often.

The Lobos’ talent runs north to South, net to net and there aren’t many – if any – question marks on this team. However, there is a question of when all these new Lobos will gel. 

“I think we were spoiled a bit the past two years because we had two veteran teams that returned intact and we could kind of throw out the ball and let them do their thing,” said Fishbein.  “This year we have five new starters  and we haven’t gelled like I expect we will.  We showed passion and confidence (in exhibitions) and I feel our momentum is good going into the opener.”

The Lobos’ momentum reaches back a long ways.  This is a program that played in a National Championship game and has established itself as one of the best soccer programs in NCAA ball. As Fish said, the Lobos get everybody’s best.

The Villanova Wildcats will have to throw out their best on the Lobos’ pitch if they expect to walk out of Albuquerque with an upset.  The Lobos defend their turf with a furious pride and that is one reason UNM has been in the Top 15 in attendance every season since the NCAA began keeping track of the turnstiles in 2001.

The Wildcats are in for an experience.

The Lobos carry a No. 11 ranking into the fray, but Fishbein admits a lot of that comes from the Lobos’ past success – which is usually how preseason rankings are formed.    There is no reason not to expect the 2013 Lobos to be excellent, but there might be some roughage Fishbein has to smooth out in the early outings.

The Lobos lost 10 players and five starters including Devon Sandoval, UNM’s leading scorer from 2012, and Blake Smith, the team’s leading assist man.  That one-two punch up front will not be replaced quickly.

“We are a team that sees ourselves as an offensive team.  We want the ball,” said Fishbein. “Sometimes with that mentality you open yourself up a little bit on defense.  We need to start the season a little more cautiously and be solid on the defensive side of the ball.   If we are solid on defense, we will create things on offense.”

Fishbein expects Villanova to step into the Lobo Soccer Complex with a similar plan.  The ‘Cats were 12-6-2 in 2012 and played 50-50 ball in the Big East with a 4-4-2 mark.  Their personnel losses were similar to UNM’s as Villanova lost six starters and 11 lettermen – eight seniors.  They return 15 lettermen and five starters who battled through the tough pitch wars of the Big East.

The Wildcats don’t return any go-to scorers and Fishbein expects them to hunker down on defense and wait for quick-strike opportunities – or Lobo mistakes. Oscar Umar scored four goals last year for the Wildcats as did Hayden Harr. Senior Dylan Renna (nine career goals, 13 assists) might be the straw that stirs up the Wildcats’ attack.  Villanova Coach Tom Carlin says his attack in 2013 might be “as deep as our attack has been since I’ve been here.” The ‘Cats scored 34 goals in 2012.

“We are preparing to play a very physical, organized team that might emphasize how they defend,” said Fishbein. “My guess is their attack will be more what we give them rather than them taking the game to us. 

“Our challenge is not to give them openings, not to give them quick chances out of transition. They are a battle-tested team and they are coming out here with nothing to lose. “

Coach Carlin might not agree with Fishbein’s evaluation of his team. “We want to possess the ball and play at a high tempo,” he said on the Villanova athletic website.

Often a team will score off a sensational shot, but more often defensive cracks are how the goals get in.  The Lobos will seek to find – or create – some cracks in the Villanova defense while staying rock solid on their end. 

Fishbein says his Lobos will be a bit more conservative and cautious in the early part of the season as they seek that all-important team chemistry.  “In reality, that takes time,” said Fishbein. “You want instant cohesiveness, but it takes a while to develop your rhythm and find your identity for the season.”

That doesn’t mean that Lobo fans shouldn’t expect some fireworks out of the Lobo offense on Friday.  The Lobos’ nature is not soft.  They are attackers and once the ball crosses into Villanova turf, that nature will take over.

And Fishbein will hope to hear the horns.

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