On Sunday afternoon, the University of New Mexico men's soccer team could not overcome their mental handicap against 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 entire season. (Of course, Lobo fans are familiar with the official ruling of the record: Despite losing this game in penalty kicks, the game is officially recorded as a tie, an oddity of a rule which allowed our team to exit the NCAA Tournament two years ago in disappointing fashion, but with an undefeated record.) The Lobos, despite starting the soccer season ranked number two in the country - and sitting at number nine when the game started - had never been able to get over the hump when it came to their division rivals, and closed out the conference tournament with another loss to the little team from Colorado that could.
With the loss, the Lobos will miss out on the automatic bid into the postseason tournament, and will be anxiously watching the televisions at Coaches Bar & Grill on Monday at 3:30 PM. After starting the first half in their traditional, aggressive style, the Lobos were rewarded with a goal from freshman Ben McKendry in the 30th minute. However, when the Lobos returned to the field after halftime, 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 when 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 overtime 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, having to save two shots, which he successfully did. However, when the overtimes were finished, the score still read 1-1, so the game moved to penalty kicks, the bane of every soccer fan's existence. Nobody likes a game to be decided on PKs and although the Falcons will gratefully take the win, surely they'd 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 more, playing out to the very end of the clock and being rewarded with that spectacular equalizer just moments before they were out of time.
Aire Force will receive the automatic bid, but coach Jeremy Fishbein says that he still expects the Lobos to host one or two home matches in the NCAA 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 for grabs.