Preview Questions Part II: Offseason Moves

We are now a day away from the season opener. Let’s dive into the offseason with part two of our season preview! Again we have Jacob, Earl, and Seth, along with Adriana Cortina from the spanish broadcast and Andy Hageman from the radio broadcast.

SAFC 2020 New Mexico United plays San Antonio FC during the first half of a USL Championship playoff soccer match, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas. (Darren Abate/USL Championship)
  1. A lot of turnover can be expected in a league like the USLC but United have kept 12 players from last year including 9 for all three seasons. What is the importance of that and which one of the returning players has had the most impact?

Seth Biddulph: The biggest thing about players returning is their knowledge of what Troy wants to do. It’s easier to build off of a handful of guys than a brand new or almost new roster. With that being said, Kalen returning will probably have the biggest impact. He’s a coach on the pitch and his understanding improves everyone around him.

Adriana Cortina: It is very important to keep a solid team. After so long, they learned to play together, understand each other and what’s most important, they love the fans and the fans love them. We hate to  see someone go. Definitely Devon Sandoval. He means a lot to the community. Not only is he a native but he represents our culture, family, and Unity. He is an icon to the state, the organization and of course to the soccer community.

Earl Nieto: It is super important to keep continuity within any organization. The fact that Untied has been able to keep a MAJORITY of the core of 2019, take that group into 2020, and bring a good portion of that group back in 2021, speaks volumes as to what Coach Troy is selling to these guys, but more importantly, just what kind of organization New Mexico United is. It is hard to single out a single individual returning as both seasons were completely different. From the 2019 squad, I would have to say Dev. Dev is an important key to our offensive success, and having him back both seasons, provides leadership in a club that seems to be getting younger. From the 2020 group, I would have to say Justin. With Justin’s return from a yearlong injury, it provides defensive help to a group that last season did not have the depth that they needed. Kalen will be able to take a break (if he wants), Suggs can take time if needed. I think with Schmidt returning, it opens doors to different avenues of success. 

Andy Hageman: The spine of the team from Kalen forward remains, with Tinny and JPG in midfield and Big Dev up front. They will all help the newbies settle in which is good. We have players from all over the world and so a common voice that mirrors the Coaches words is a good thing. I will go with Tinny and JPG because without a solid midfield all is lost.

Jacob Terrell: Continuity is a must if you want to win a championship. That’s why MLS 2 teams struggle to be consistent year after year. Troy wants a contender not just in 2021 but in 2022 and beyond. Bringing back the likes of Kalen Ryden, Amando Moreno, and all of the native New Mexicans is vital to the club being a championship contender.

  1. Wehan and Mizell are obviously huge losses this offseason. Do you feel like the club has done a good job of retooling the roster to replace them? And who actually replaces Mizell as our starting keeper.

Seth: Losing your #1 is always hard. Cody was a fan favorite and a leader on the pitch. The same can be said for Beez. Beez did it all, from tracking back to being one of our better threats in 2020. You can never replace a person of their caliber and they will absolutely be missed. That being said, there’s a lot of talent that was brought in this year and the players that have signed should be more than capable of stepping in. 

Adriana: I was always in favor of seeing more of Phillip Beigl in the previous seasons. Losing Mizell to an  MLS team was a loss but also feels like a win. We can now say NM United has top, quality players that will move up to bigger things. And we are proud of them. I feel confident that our 2 goalies are prepared for the job. In general, I am pleased with the selection of the new players and the ones that stayed, they all are very qualified, skilled, experienced and multicultural. Just by watching the preseason matches I can see how well they are adapting, fitting in with their teammates and understanding NM United’s mission.  

Earl: Losing both Wehan and Mizell is a  huge blow to United. But I also feel that the club brought in new faces that  want to fill that gap. With the acquisition of Alex Tambakis and the likes of Sergio Rivas, Brian Brown, and Ilija Ilic, all the “holes “ that we were left with recently are  filled. To answer the burning question about starting keeper… God only knows. Both Alex and Phil are incredible keepers. Both are smart, and both have proven they can do things between the sticks. I hope it is Phil, but would not be hard pressed if it were Alex. 

Andy: The talk was that Timbakis will stroll into the role. But Big Phil will do his best if he gets the call to steal the #1 jersey. A couple of years ago the Manchester United keeper was hailed as the best in the world…this year he is fighting for his place. Taking anything for granted in sport shortens your career.

Jacob: I can’t fault Wehan going back home to Orange County and it’s great for both Mizell and United that he moved on to the MLS. The players that the club has brought in to replace Wehan have fit in seamlessly so far in the preseason and because of that i think the attack will be better than ever this year. Tambakis and Beigl seem to have a great competition going for that number 1 spot. My belief is that Big Phil will get the nod on May 1st but whoever it is has to know that one slip up could cost them that spot.

  1. I asked about the biggest weakness of 2020. Do you feel like the club has done a good job of fixing that? And if so how?
Romeo Oh Romeo Photo Courtesy of Phoenix Rising

Seth: So far this preseason the changes that have been made seem to be working. Michael Azira has joined and is another defensive minded player that can drop back to help fill in the gaps. 

Adriana: Yes, going back to the addition of Kalen Ryden and with Justin Schmidt coming out fully  recovered from an injury, along with Yearwood, Tetteh, Hamilton and Touche, sounds like a very strong defense, but the real fight will be in the mid field. Makes me wonder who our starting 11 will be. We have great competition amongst these players.

 Earl: Like before, I felt the midfield was our biggest weakness. But we answered that call by adding multiple midfielders, both attacking and defensive. We added depth to a group of guys that needed the depth last season.

 Andy: I think we did well in 2020. I am not sure there was a weakness that caused us to be beaten in the playoff in El Paso. It was the Lottery that are PK’s 

Jacob: I think you will see what the coaching staff thinks is the biggest weakness by looking at the signings they make the next offseason. After year one the first signing was Kalen then they added depth everywhere. This season they went heavy on attacking players. Goals, while not necessarily rare, were not at the level needed to compete for a cup. We will have to see if the results are there after the season but I like the moves on paper.

  1. We added 8 new faces this year. All of which have experience in the MLS or USLC aside from one. Which 2 guys are going to be the most important to the club in 2021?

Seth: Alex Tambakis and Harry Swartz

Adriana: I am going for Michael Azira and Harry Swartz, also very hard not to mention Isidro Martinez and  Sergio Rivas. I 

Earl: I feel like Ilija Ilic and Sergio Rivas will be the biggest splashes in the Rio Grande. They are both able to fill roles that were taken from the 2020 season. 

Andy: Chelo looks to be a talent as did Schwartz in the last game so I will say what I saw, but if the new front boys fire then we will see some sparks.

Jacob: Chelo and Brian Brown. Chelo is someone that excels on set pieces. That is something we have desperately needed. Brian Brown is going to go a long way in determining if we can win a cup. If he is able to find the back of the net and control the ball like we have seen this preseason then the USLC needs to look out

  1. There are now 4 first team players from New Mexico with the addition of Sergio Rivas. That combined with the academy contracts and the whole academy team mean that we will always have New Mexicans on the club. What does that mean for this state and this team? 
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL! Photo Courtesy of Colorado Springs Switchbacks

Seth: I think it gives the club another way to constantly be involved with the community. It’s a sign that football is here to stay and gives the kids here a chance to dream and actually play for their hometown team.

Adriana: It’s huge! Our state is full of culture and tradition. New Mexico is proud of the team and more so of the people who truly represent us.  

Earl: It makes me excited as a New Mexican to see 4 starting New Mexicans. But it also makes me happier knowing that the Academy kids will also get their chance to shine for New Mexico in the future.

Andy: Using home grown players is less expensive (agents / transfer fees) and also the trust between player/coach grows if they come in from U23 / Academy – so excellent if we can fill the ranks with New Mexican’s.

Jacob: New Mexico is a great place with great people and I’m happy we have 4 high level guys and a team of young academy kids to represent us and show the country that we have talented and genuine people here.

Season Preview Questions: 2020

Ladies and gentlemen, We are a mere 3 days away from our first regular season match of 2021! That means it’s time for our season preview. In similar fashion to last years we asked a handful of fans/media members their thoughts on last season, the offseason and, of course, the 2021 season. Adriana Cortina from the spanish broadcast team and Andy Hageman from the radio broadcast team join Earl, Seth, and Jacob. We start with a look back at 2020 and what a year that was. 

  1. 2019 was full of memorable moments. 2020 was slightly different with no home matches and no magical open cup run. What was your favorite moment of 2020?
SAFC 2020 New Mexico United plays San Antonio FC during the first half of a USL Championship playoff soccer match, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas. (Darren Abate/USL Championship)

Seth Biddulph: Colorado Springs giving up their venue so that United could have a “home” match. It was one of the few times during the season that the supporters were able to see the club in action and I think it meant a lot, not just for the supporters, but the club as well.

Adriana Cortina:In 2020, after the very first match, in March, everything turned very uncertain. The pandemic hit  and we thought the season was over. By then, I had gotten hired as the new Spanish Color  Commentator for the team, I was living the dream. That was my favorite part of all!  2020 turned out to be not so bad after all. The club did the imaginable to make things happen,  the sacrifice, the weekly travel and the constant covid testing, proved how much these guys  wanted to play and bring happiness to our community and fans. Even from the distance. Despite  the struggles, NM United made it to the playoffs once again. And I am happy to say we were able to bring joy to our listeners by calling the games on the radio. 

Earl Nieto: I think my favorite moment from 2020 was the playoff game against El Paso. It was memorable because we planned this awesome watch along party, I was super excited about, but just as with 2020, life happened. My wife planned a weekend away from the house. So here I was cooped up in some hotel room in Santa Rosa, watching the match, super excited about it. Granted the game did not go as planned, but it is my favorite memory of 2020, because it defined exactly what 2020 was. 

Andy Hageman: The sheer disbelief, elation and unlimited hope provided to Adam and I in the commentary box in El Paso with Romeo Parkes’ 94th minute wonder strike.

Jacob Terrell: It was hard for me to remember a single moment aside from our first playoff win which I’m surprised no one else mentioned here. A late winner in extra time from Chris Wehan and some stout defense for 120 plus minutes led to a quarter final victory and a 5th date with El Paso. 

  1. We finished 2nd in our 4 team pod. We made the playoff. We won our first playoff match. Does that feel like a successful season or did it leave you a little disappointed?

 Seth: Despite the success the club had last year, it was still a bit of a disappointment to have not gone further. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a successful campaign. United did what many would have thought impossible, play an entire season on the road and still be competitive. 

Adriana: I am the type of person that likes to see the glass half full. I wasn’t disappointed at all. I don’t think any of us were. I’d say I was very pleased with the team’s performance and  accomplishments. I want to express my respects to coaches, staff and players for the sacrifices  and efforts made.  

Earl: It leaves me feeling 50/50. I feel it was successful because of the entire season we had to endure. 100% away from home due to COVID, not being able to interact with fans both at matches and in the store. So making playoffs, with everything that was handed to us is successful. But, New Mexico United is playing not only for the fans, but for some hardware. So to lose in the playoffs is always disheartening. But to lose to a team like El Paso, is even more disappointing.

Andy: When we scored in the 94th minute against El Paso our big chance was to ‘win it’ in the first period of Extra Time and we dominated El Paso as their minds were shot having conceded so late. But that said, any forward movement and or improvement on a very solid 2019 should be seen as a success.

Jacob: What United accomplished last year was unprecedented. Winning a playoff match while playing all 17 matches out of the state of New Mexico has to be deemed a success. That being said, I can’t help but be disappointed with the way the season ended against El Paso.  

Aug 15, 2020; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC defender Hiroki Kurimoto (8) and defender Joan Cervos (2) defend against New Mexico United midfielder Chris Wehan (14) in the second half at Weidner Field. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/Switchbacks FC
  1. I mentioned the 4 team pods from last year. How did you like facing El Paso, Colorado Springs, and Real Monarch 12 times? 

Seth: By the third time we faced each of our division rivals, I was done with it, mostly from a media perspective. With the matches still being important and competitive for the most part, there was still some excitement. 

Adriana: I understood it was going to be a real challenge for the league to put a tournament back  together in such a short period of time, taking in consideration schedules, lockdowns, restrictions, safety and travel. At that moment, as part of the broadcast team and as a fan, we took what we could get. It was a bit repetitive but not only did it help the players stay in gear, working and raising their productivity and activity levels, it let them get to know their opponents for future matches.

Earl: I was not a fan of the smaller team pods last season. By the middle of the season, we were already looking at the same team that we had played at least twice by then. It took away from the excitement of playing the different teams such as San Diego Loyal, Orange County and Reno. 

Andy: It was a necessary evil to get 2020 played to a conclusion. It did get a bit like “oh, you lot again” but for me it probably helped Troy and the lads since they were winning. Winning and losing is a habit, and if you are in the run, then those you face again, remember that loss(es) and history repeats itself. Had we gone on a losing run against the same ol same old, then I’d answer the opposite. 

Jacob: I understand that it was the best, maybe even the only, way to get a season played during a pandemic but it was terrible. I think it wore on the team as well. Looking back at our last match with El Paso it was clear both teams were done with each other and just wanted to get to the playoffs

  1. We kept more clean sheets in a 15 match season than we did in a 34 match season the year before. Was that all Kalen Ryden or was there more that contributed to that? 
Kalen Ryden Photo Courtesy of Real Monarchs

Seth: Having Kalen solidify the back was a huge part of it. He’s one of the best center halves in the USL and it shows. There was also a shift in the tactics Troy used and to me that was the biggest catalyst for the improvement.

Adriana: Ryden was/is a great addition to the team! The reassurance, experience and confidence he  brings to the defense is amazing, especially in a year where we lost 2 center backs/defenders due to injuries (Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh). Ryden made a huge difference. No doubt.  But, we can not take credit away from the rest of the team and coaches. It starts with great leadership and direction and goes from there. Every one plays an important role. 

Earl: As much as I would love to say it was all Kalen, soccer is more than a one man show. Kalen had a huge part in it, and was able to command the defense, but to put it all on Kalen, would not give the other guys on defense the credit that they deserve as well. 

Andy: The ‘Brick Outbuilding’ wasn’t solely responsible but his command of the PK area was awesome, his communication with those around him and Cody was a major factor.

Jacob: Credit is due to all of our defensive players, including the midfield, and the change in tactics. Kalen deserves double the credit though. He played every minute of every match. He allowed for that change in tactics. He elevated the other players and gave them the ability to play a more aggressive style of play because they knew he had their back.  

  1. We fixed what I thought was our biggest weakness in 2019, which was the defense. What do you think was the biggest weakness in 2020?

Seth: For me, our biggest weakness was the play of the wing backs out of the 3-5-2. Bruce and Suggs didn’t seem entirely comfortable at times and transitions were tough. 

Adriana: Mistakes were made, of course. Like in the Phoenix Rising match, for example. But I wouldn’t  call that a weakness. I don’t mean to justify the losses, but I also blamed the constant traveling, playing each match away from home, many hours on the road and a year full of fear and uncertainty. I think that took a toll physically and mentally on these players. On the field, I’d say, maybe playing the same teams over and over also played a part.  

Earl: I think the biggest weakness in 2020 was the midfield. As strong as our midfield was, there were some gaps that needed to be filled. There were more times than not when we were in yellow card situations that were just not smart fouls to take. I do believe that we have addressed that concern with some of the offseason acquisitions, but only time will be able to tell. 

Andy: Hard to pinpoint this, I gave the team an A- so picking a problem area isn’t easy. Dare I say, conceding late in half/game? Picking at straws.

Jacob: To me the clear issue was finishing. We only scored more than 2 goals once. During the last 5 matches, including the playoffs, we scored 3 goals in regulation. We had 3 players score more than 2 goals. I felt like we were a team that could drop 4 goals on anyone yet the goals never really came.