ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --- On a clear night under the UNM Soccer Complex lights, The University of New Mexico men's soccer team (6-3, 1-1 C-USA) claimed its first Conference USA victory of the season with a 4-1 final over the visiting Florida International Panthers (3-5-1, 1-2 C-USA) on Friday night.
Senior Chris Wehan scored twice in the first half to give the Lobos a 2-0 advantage heading into the break. The New Mexico defense stayed strong, allowing only one goal in the 85th minute en route to the win. The game marked just the fourth time this season that New Mexico has notched multiple goals in a game.
"It was a great performance tonight, that's what we're looking for," head coach Jeremy Fishbein said. "It was a great reaction coming off of a loss. We challenged the guys, we said they've got to come out there with a little bit of fire to them ... and they met the expectations."
It was in the 17th minute that Wehan broke the game open and put the Lobos ahead with his second goal of the season. The senior MAC Herman Trophy Watch List honoree received the ball near midfield, weaved his way past the Panther defensive line, shot from the left side of the box and landed the ball in the center of the net for the 1-0 lead.
The Lobos, who are 6-0 when scoring first this season and 5-0 at home, took the first goal and ran with it. In the 42nd minute, just before the close of the first half, redshirt-freshman Tom Smart expertly chipped the ball over the defense to Wehan, who blasted the ball high into the box, just under the crossbar and above keeper Arthur Clapot's hands. Clapot has been enjoying a stellar 2016 campaign, posting 20 saves heading into Friday's matchup, including a penalty-kick stop in the Panthers' 2-1 win over Kentucky.
"I think it was just that my time was coming," Wehan said. "I needed to stay patient, I needed to stay hungry and I did."
Junior keeper Jason Beaulieu was forced to make just two saves in the first half behind a solid Lobo defensive line. One of which was when the Panthers threatened with nine minutes left in the first period with the score just 1-0. FIU's Brad Fountain took a sharply-angled shot from the left wing, aiming for the right corner, but Beaulieu made an athletic, diving save to knock it away and prevent the equalizer.
The Lobos came out on fire in the second half. Senior Niko Hansen broke away just five minutes into the period and went one-on-one with Clapot. Hansen fired but Clapot came out of the net to make a stellar save, keeping the Lobo lead at two.
Hansen rebounded, however, from his narrow miss. Just five minutes later, he fired from the far left wingdirectly into the top right corner of the net to put UNM up 3-0. The senior, who is currently ranked in the top 30 in the nation in goals per game, total points and points per game, now boasts seven goals on the season.
New Mexico increased its lead to four for the first time this season when junior Luke Lawrence blasted a shotfrom the top of the box that landed in the bottom right corner of the net. The shot opportunity came after junior Sam Gleadle nearly scored from the right, but recovered and passed from the close right wing for the assist. The goal marks the first as a Lobo for Lawrence, who transferred to UNM from Fort Lewis College.
"To me that's more joy than I got out of scoring two goals," Wehan said of his teammates finding success. "The fact that guys like Gabo (Gabriel Camera) and Russ (Bigege) have been working their butts off training, they've been working so hard. Those guys get all the credit that we have on the field in winning this game. I'm so happy for those guys, I'm especially happy for Luke too, finally getting to score since he was so close in the last few games."
The Lobos began substituting fresh legs in the waning minutes of the game, including redshirt-freshman Ford Parker between the posts. The contest marked Parker's first appearance of the season as he gave up the lone goal in the 85th minute to FIU's Joris Ahlinvi.
Overall New Mexico outshot FIU 16-13 including 10 shots on goal to the Panthers' five. Wehan led the Lobos with four shots on goal, followed by Hansen who posted three. UNM also emerged with a slight edge in corner kicks, 5-4.
Beaulieu improves to 6-3-0 on the season while Clapot falls to 3-5-1 overall with the loss.
UNM is set to return to action on Tuesday, Oct. 4 as they host a non-conference matchup against Loyola Marymount at the UNM Soccer Complex at 7 p.m.