By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
The Eastern New Mexico University men’s soccer team has shown it can hold its own at home. Now the Greyhounds will try to keep building during a seven-match road stretch.
ENMU notched its first win ever over rival West Texas A&M on Wednesday, beating the Buffaloes 2-1 in Southwest Soccer Conference play on a goal by freshman midfielder Odilon Garcia with one minute left in the second overtime.
The Greyhounds (4-4-2, 2-0-1 SSC) took over the early lead in conference play, improving to 1-7-1 all-time against WT. Now, though, after playing their first three league contests at the ENMU pitch, the next four are on the road.
First-year ENMU coach Harold Munoz, whose team has traveled for only two matches so far, realizes his team’s work is cut out.
“We’re hitting a tough part of the schedule right now,” he said. “If we can scrape any points, it’ll be a heck of a year for us.”
WT (7-4, 2-1), ranked 12th in NCAA Division II as of last week, kept the pressure on much of the way, but the Hounds’ defense was equal to the task.
“They put us under a lot of adversity, but these guys showed some real class out there and I’m real proud of them,” senior defender Michael James said.
James said that with earlier wins over Mesa State, ranked earlier this season, and conference foe Northeastern State, a first for the program, the Hounds are headed in the right direction.
“We’ve had three of the biggest wins in school history,” said James, who is from Gloucester, England. “We want to make the NCAA tournament, if we can. We’re not settling for just third in the conference anymore.”
Sophomore forward Emerson Rodrigues put ENMU in front at the 25:31 mark, scoring on a header off a free kick from the left side by sophomore midfielder Thiago Siveira. That held up until the 64th minute, when the Buffs tied it on a goal by Oliver Mulamba.
The Hounds held on from there until WT goalkeeper Sebastian Furness came outside the box to stop a push by ENMU’s Jerry Varpilah. But Garcia was there for the rebound and had basically a wide-open net from about 25 yards out for the game-winner.
Shortly before that, ENMU freshman keeper Grant Shanahan made a big save on a potential game-winning header by Mulamba.
“They have good players, so we knew we had to defend all the way around,” James said. “They’re a great team, but we played better than they did today.”
Munoz agreed that the Hounds are still trying to reach WT’s level.
“They’re a better team than we are, player for player,” he said. “But as a unit, today we were better.”