Yesterday afternoon, the University of New Mexico men's soccer team was defeated by the Air Force Falcons, losing the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation division title to the team that has now contributed three of the Lobos four losses this season. Of course Lobo fans are familiar with the official ruling of the outcome. Despite losing this game in penalty kicks, the game is officially recorded as a tie, an oddity of a rule which caused our team to exit the NCAA Tournament two years ago in disappointing fashion, but with an undefeated record. The Lobos, despite starting the season ranked number two in the country—and sitting at number nine when the game started—were never been able to get over the hump of these division rivals and closed out the conference tournament with another loss to the little team from Colorado that could.
With the defeat, the Lobos will miss out on the automatic bid into the post-season tournament, and will be anxiously watching the televisions at Coaches Bar and Grill at 3:30 p.m. After starting the first half in their traditional, aggressive style, the Lobos were rewarded with a goal from freshman Ben McKendry at the 30-minute mark. However, when the Lobos returned to the field after half-time, they had a brief hot start, but then played a sluggish, slow-paced game, managing only one less shot than in the first half, but allowing 2 for Air Force after none had been attempted in the first half. With a mere 16 seconds left in the match, Kevin Durr blasted one into the back of the net for the Falcons and the game was sent to overtime.
In the extra periods, the Lobos continued their tired play, allowing three shots and only forcing one save. Goalkeeper Patrick Poblete, in fact, had his hands full in the overtime periods, saving two shots successfully. However, when the overtimes were finished, the score still read 1-1, so the game moved to the bane of every soccer fan's existence—penalty kicks. Nobody likes a game to be decided in that way, and although the Falcons will gratefully take the win, they would surely rather have decided the game during the match.
There were plenty of opportunities to do so, though, for both sides, and no team lost for lack of effort. While the Lobos appeared tired, Air Force had played three games in four days and clearly wanted the win, playing out to the very end of the clock and being rewarded with that spectacular equalizer just moments before they were out of time.
The Air Force will receive the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, but coach Jeremy Fishbein says that he still expects the Lobos to host one or two home matches in the tournament. It's unthinkable that the Lobos wouldn't get in, but where they'll play and who they'll play is now very much up in the air.