On Friday afternoon, the University of New Mexico soccer team lost in the Final Four of the NCAA post-season tournament. Although UNM did a good job of controlling possession and took an equal number of shots on goal than the Fighting Irish did, they allowed an early slip in defense, which led opportunistic Patrick Hodan to a goal in the seventh minute. With that disadvantage ensconced in their minds, the Lobos refused to play timid, challenging the staunch Notre Dame offense again and again.
As the second half began, though, and time started to slip through the fingers of the Cherry and Silver, things got a bit more tight. The set pieces started to develop for both teams - there were no corner kicks in the first half, and 8 total in the second. UNM still played the role of the aggressor, but it was clear by the mid-point of the second half that it was because they had to, not because they wanted to. Finally, in the 65th minute, Notre Dame connected again with the back of the net. Again, it was Hodan, this time off an extremely odd miss, hammered off the crossbar by Vince Cicciarelli and followed up on by Hodan after an unlucky Lobo touch.
From then on, it was desperation mode for coach Jeremy Fishbein and his crew; watching their magical season evaporate in front of their eyes and on ESPNU. When the final whistle sounded, UNM was still down 0-2, and Notre Dame was advancing, although their opponent was still to be determined at the time. Later Friday evening, Maryland took down Virginia for their place in the national title match.
There have got to be several consolations to ending the season in a loss, even in the face of departure from their seniors. Kyle Venter has been invited to the MLS Super Draft and is almost certain to be selected, while goalkeeper Michael Lisch and a pair of Michaels - Kafarri and Calderon - will all be gone next year, even if they don't all make it to the MLS. But the silver lining to these heavy contributors leaving the team is that there is a strong youth movement behind them. For a team that sometimes felt like it was overachieving this year, there's a solid foundation to build upon next year. And, much like this year's eventual champion, Notre Dame, there's a strong chance the Lobos will come back stronger next season.
The Lobos played yet another fantastic season and have much to be proud of. The future looks bright.