ALBUQUERQUE,N.M. – The fourth-ranked UNM men’s soccer team claimed the championship of the TLC Plumbing and Utility Invitational Sunday night by virtue of its 2-0 win over the visiting VCU Rams. Niko Hansen and Chris Wehan scored for the Lobos (5-1-1) while Ben McKendry played one of his best games of the season to earn Tournament MVP honors.
“It was a good performance by the guys,” UNM head coach Jeremy Fishbein said. “(VCU is) a quality team, and at least on the night we were quite a bit better.”
In a somewhat slow-paced first half, UNM took advantage of its only real opportunity in the 18th minute. Oniel Fisher received the ball near the midfield stripe and drew two defenders. Hansen streaked past on the right, and Fisher hit him with a perfect through ball. Hansen collected it at the edge of the 18-yard box and slid it to the far post past the keeper to give UNM a one-goal lead.
“We had great pressure,” Hansen said. “As forwards we’re always told to stay high on the press to get those opportunities. We got the pass through and I finished it.”
It was Hansen’s first goal of the season after recording seven as a freshman in 2013.
VCU had a couple of good chances in the first havlf but could never get a clean shot on goal. The Rams’ only shot on goal all game was from long range and easily corralled by freshman keeper Jason Beaulieu. Defensive MVP Nick Miele and his defensive partners shut down the Rams’ attack despite constant pressure by VCU’s forwards.
UNM picked up its play in the second half, and it was fueled by McKendry.
In the 58th minute he took a nice feed from Wehan and let loose with a rocket from 19 yards that hit the crossbar. Just three minutes later he was dangerous yet again as his shot from 10 yards snuck past the defense and forced the keeper to make a difficult low save.
McKendry had plenty of company, however. In the 64th minute Hansen’s shot was blocked, but it went right to James Rogers, but the senior’s effort from seven yards sailed high. In the 70th minute Hansen had another chance after winning the ball off a nice clearance by defender Chris Gurule. He tried to chip the keeper from the right side of the box, but his shot sailed wide and high.
Then in the 75th minute Wehan took advantage of sloppy VCU play on his way to tournament Offensive MVP honors.
The Rams’ keeper, Garrett Cyprus, was careless with a clearing kick and sent it directly to Wehan. He slid it to the near post to give UNM some breathing room.
“I read it just right,” he said. “It was bad communication by VCU. I picked it up and then slotted it in. It was pretty wide open to me. I think it relieved a lot of pressure from us. One of my teammates came up and just said, ‘Thank you.’ It definitely helped us get the win.”
From that point on the defense held tight and preserved Beaulieu’s third clean sheet of the season. That is the second most a freshman keeper has ever recorded for the Lobos, behind only Andrew Weber’s five in 2001.
“It was a good win, an important win, against a quality team,” Fishbein said. “We really prevented them from playing quite a bit. We took away their strengths. I thought Jason was really good in goal, controlling the box.”
Rogers and Josh Dye were also named to the All-Tournament Team. The Lobos plus-two goal differential gave them the championship over Bakersfield, which was at plus-one.
New Mexico (17:07): Hansen (Fisher)
New Mexico (74:43): Wehan
VCU: Castillo, yellow (77:23)
New Mexico: Beaulieu (GK), Gibbons, McGovern, Miele, McKendry, Rogers, Fisher, Hansen, Wehan, Gurule, Dye
VCU: Cyprus (GK), Castillo, Fajardo Ortiz, Monge Solano, Barnathan, Herrera Meraz, Belmar, Duffie, Manel, Fisher, Eaton
UNM opens Conference USA play when it travels to North Carolina to take on the Charlotte 49ers Friday at 5 p.m. (MT). The Lobos were voted preseason favorites by C-USA coaches and Charlotte was voted second.
Ben McKendry – UNM (Tournament MVP)
Nick Miele – UNM (Defensive MVP)
Chris Wehan – UNM (Offensive MVP)
James Rogers – UNM
Josh Dye – UNM
Christian Duarte – CSUB
Joe Masumiya – CSUB
Jamie Carey-Morrell – CSUB
Guido Pena – Drexel
Michele Pataia – Drexel
Juan Fajardo Ortiz – VCU
Ritchie Duffie - VCU