New Mexico United Position Preview: Defenders/Keepers

The back line started off hot last year giving up only 14 goals in the first half of the season (17 matches). They faded down the stretch however, giving up 27 goals in the second half. Alexis Souahy, Rashid Tetteh and Raddy Ovouka have moved on leaving a returning core of Kalen Ryden, William Seymore, Austin Yearwood, Harry Swartz, and Josh Suggs.

Kalen Ryden vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks

Kalen is returning for his 4th season with United. He picked up a knock early last season and never really looked like himself again. In the lone preseason match I was able to attend he looked like he was back and that will go a long way in determining how good this defense is this season.

Austin, who is criminally underrated, might be our best defender. He has been one of the best fullbacks in the league that doesn’t get any recognition outside of New Mexico. If he can perform as well this year as he has the past 2 the league won’t be able to ignore him.

Seymore was looked at as a midfielder by many when joining this team last season. He quickly cemented himself as a defensive stalwart after Ryden went down though. Now he projects as a starting CB for us alongside Kalen.

Harry and Suggs are both players who like to bomb down the wings and really have to cover a lot of ground with the position that they play. Suggs and Austin should split time on the left with Suggs being an elder statesman back there.

Timothie Zali and Kyle Colonna are the lone additions to the back line. Zali is a a 6’5” center back from Sweden who has long dreamed of playing in a big league. He made the move to an American side in hopes of reaching that dream. He adds much needed height to the back line and jumped to the moon to score a header in the preseason. The only concern I have with him is he has a very thin frame that could pose problems against some stronger forwards in this league.

Kyle Colonna is fresh off 4 seasons at San Diego State where he was a captain his senior year. The 6’3” centerback looked solid this preseason and really impressed me in the match that I was able to attend. Between him and Zali we have some depth back there but could use another body. Wyparlo might be able to play in the back as well depending on circumstances.

That just leaves the keepers. Alex Tambakis is back for his 3rd season in black and yellow. He has the ability to be a league best goalie and we will need him stay in the top half of keepers in order to compete. He made some incredible stops but also gave up a few that should have been saved. That’s every keeper aside from Jordan Farr though. Backing up Alex is Alb. native Ford Parker. Ford had to step into action early last season and looked good with Alex injured. He’s a solid backup who can start in a pinch.

Kalen and Alex are going to be the keys to having a great defense. If they can reach their peak levels then we will be well above average. That being said, I have some doubts that they can. If they can’t then we will need the offense to carry us.

New Mexico United Position Preview: Midfield

Justin Portillo was a star in the midfield last season for United. JP led the team in goals with 8 and in assists with 5. Defensively he was great at putting out fires before they even got started, he was good with set piece deliveries and was nails from the penalty spot. He returns for the 2023 season, which already puts the midfield in good shape.

Justin Portillo takes a corner against OCSC

Also returning is defensive mid Sam Hamilton. Sam had a rough end to the season but was arguably our best defensive mid for more than the first half of the campaign. I expect him to return to that form and for him to be the player we have seen the majority of his 4 seasons with United. Sergio Rivas returns as well. The former member of the Albuquerque Sol returns for his 3rd season with United. Injuries have limited his ability to fully find his form and he’s starting out injured already this season. He has had moments of brilliance for this club though and is a solid player both in attack and defense.

Daniel Bruce and Chris Wehan round out the midfield returners. Wehan in a big time number 10 when he is right. Last season might have been a down year but we know the talent is there and with Santi Moar returning and another year with Zach Prince’s system United need him to have a huge bounce back year for the former Lobo.

Bruce is a menace in the attack often collecting long diagonals in open space and finding the open striker or taking on a defender one on one. That’s not all he is capable of though. He has played as a fullback at times and that versatility means he should see the pitch plenty this season. He has been on fire this preseason, 4 goals to lead the team. I look for that to continue going into the regular season.

United has added a few names this off-season including “new” names, Andres Robles and Miles Merritt. Both young guys are on academy contracts. You probably recognize the names if you have followed the academy at all. They have both been featured some this preseason but I expect them both to choose the college route and will only make a few appearances for the first team.

We did have some trialists in the midfield this preseason including Milo Gravanian, Michael Wyparlo, and Josa Sosa. The later 2 have officially signed with the club and the former might not be far behind. Wyparlo figures to be a defensive mid that can spell Sam and could also feature on the back line. Sosa figured to be more of a box to box type and might spell Portillo when needed.

This midfield has a wide variety of players and can conform to a few different formations. I look at Wehan and Hamilton as the important pieces. They both need bounce back seasons in order for United to compete for a shield or cup. The young guys will add depth when needed and we know what Bruce, Rivas and Portillo can bring. All in all it is a solid but unremarkable midfield.

New Mexico United Position Preview: Forwards

A ton of changes were made to the front line this off-season. Injuries and mid season accusations were the stories last year. New Mexico finished the season tied for 15th in the USL Championship with 49 goals. That’s not a terrible number but when you factor in the 7 goal outburst against Phoenix and names like Neco Brett, Kevon Frater, Romario Williams and Jerome Kiesewetter it’s a little disappointing.

Cristian Nava training at Media Day 2023

So this off-season Zach Prince and his staff decided to make wholesale changes to the attack. All of the above names are gone, as is Devon Sandoval, retired, and Preston Tabort Etaka, now in Las Vegas. That leaves returning players  Armando Moreno and Cristian Nava. Although midfielders Chris Wehan, and Daniel Bruce could feature in a more forward role returning as well.

To that stable of returning players United added a familiar face, getting Santi Moar in a trade with Phoenix Rising. Santi, coming off a down year last year, had strong underlying numbers and his overall body of work in the USL is fantastic. In 2021 he was top 10 in goals with 16. He added 4 assists while leading the best offense in the league. In a separate deal with Rising, United added Forward Greg Hurst. Hurst joined Phoenix last season after a stellar stint with Union Omaha of USL 1. Hurst, like all of Phoenix, had a down season but showed flashes including scoring in his debut with Phoenix. Him and Santi have linked up this preseason and are 2 pieces that will play a huge role this season.

Joining them is 25 year old Josh Dolling. Josh joins us from St. Louis City 2 where he had 8 goals in 21 appearances. The England native had shown out this preseason scoring 3 goals including a brace against El Paso. One last name that I personally think will play a large role in the attack is academy product Alex Waggoner. Alex won the Golden Boot at the USL academy playoffs in Tampa Bay last November finishing with 6 goals and 2 assists in only 4 matches. The Taos native has looked great this preseason and at 6’2” he has the size to really compete in this league. He has potential to bust out this season and be our first player to be sold on.

The preseason doesn’t always translate to regular season success but United looked very dangerous in the warm up matches. Zach has mentioned multiple times this preseason that the team had better chemistry and that the players have fully bought in to the Team mentality. We have seen that lead to goals so far and it is a theme that should translate to the regular season. Because of that I can see United finishing in the top 10 in goals scored. There is a lot to be excited about going into the season and I can’t wait to see what Hurst, Waggoner, and Dolling can add.

This Feels Different

Harry Swartz and Alexis Souahy celebrate the season opening goal!

    It’s only been two matches but this team has a different feel to it than the past three seasons. There are several factors to that feeling but to me it starts up top. Neco Brett and Tabort Etaka Preston have been fantastic up top. They possess the speed and finishing ability that we have been lacking since year one. I’m convinced that Brett is the only player other than maybe Kevaughn Frater that finishes that chip in El Paso. And the flick by Neco to Tabort against Las Vegas Lights is a play that only happens with those two up top. 

     With those two along with a healthy Harry Swartz, Jerome Kiesewetter, Chris Wehan and the return and possible return of Amando Moreno and Devon Sandoval, the offense has more upside than ever before and that has been vital to the success of this club. In the first three seasons when United scores two goals or more they average 2.19 points per match. On the flip side when they score one or fewer that average drops all the way to 0.72. I imagine other clubs have similar differences but I’m not going to do all that math. I just know that when we score at least two goals we are nearly unbeatable with 27 wins, 9 draws and only 5 losses. 

Neco Brett stays and signs autographs after the season opening win vs. Las Vegas Lights

    The other big difference to me is the way we continue to push forward. Going up 2-0 on Las Vegas Lights was great. Continuing to press and push for another goal was greater. Far too often we would go up only to sit back and inevitably concede a goal or two. In the first three seasons United dropped points in a whopping 23 matches. Now it’s only two matches but so far we have had a lead and held it and I think that’s due, in part, to the aggressive nature we have had. 

     If two matches is the definition of small sample size then what’s one match? In the first three seasons United has only come from a losing position to get a result 11 times. Only three of those 11 turned into wins. What happened against El Paso you ask? We turned the first deficit of 2022 into a win. We showed the grit needed to fight back and then the heart to hold on, which we talked about earlier. Oh and did I mention we were without Kalen Ryden, Austin Yearwood, and Josh Suggs. That’s a great sign moving forward. 

     We haven’t played a perfect match yet but the great teams can turn decent performances into wins and near perfect matches into blowouts. It’s early and the season is long and tedious but the early returns on the Zach Prince era are promising to say the least. 

Season Preview Questions: A Look Ahead

Today is the day!!! Let’s look ahead to 2021 and see what we think the new season holds. 

  1. 32 matches. 24 against our group which includes the same 3 from last year plus RGV, SAFC, and Austin Bold. Which of those teams is most likely to start a fight on the pitch? And whose fans are most likely to start a Twitter beef? 
Fans of all sizes came to watch preseason matches at Mesa Del Sol. Photo by: Blue Mountain Images

Seth Biddulph: If we’re sticking to our group then the answer to both is El Paso.

Adriana Cortina: El Paso Locos no doubt. I experienced it myself. They take the rivalry very seriously. On and off the pitch. Followed by Phoenix Rising of course.  

Earl Nieto: I think the Twitter beef continues with El Paso and their “fans” (first shots fired), But of the different names, I don’t really see any beef between the others as they seem more respectable bases both on and off the pitch. 

Andy Hageman: SAFC hands down, they weren’t expecting to be dumped out last year by us and will want to show that.

Jacob Terrell: I think SAFC is the dark horse pick here. Things got chippy on the pitch last season and I could that spilling over. The fan answer has to be El Paso though. There is no love lost between the two fan bases. 

  1. We have 8 matches against non group members. Those include 4 against Eastern Conference opponents. What are your thoughts on that and which EC opponent are you looking forward to the most?  

Seth: I think it’s a huge step for the USL to do this and I don’t see any reason that it can’t continue in the future. It gives the league a chance to mix things up and expose supporters to different teams. Personally I can’t wait to see the guys take on Louisville City FC.

Adriana: Sounds like a great challenge to me. We want to see more. A new style, potential and other  levels of competition.

Earl:  I am looking forward to playing Eastern Conference opponents. It opens the door to recruit more players out of the East to come to New Mexico. But the opponent I most looking forward to playing from the East is Lou City. Lou City has won 2 of the last 3 cups, and will be a GREAT test to see if New Mexico can hold their own against a Cup Caliber squad.

Andy:  Louisville City FC and for no particular reason

Jacob: I’m going with Charleston actually. It’ll be here at the lab. It has a special place in coach Troy’s heart. They are a quality club and will be a good test for us. 

Celebrate! Amando scores in the preseason. Photo by Blue Mountain Images
  1. We travel to Louisville City, Phoenix, and San Diego. How do we fair in those three matches and how important are they to our season? 

Seth: These are going to be tough matches no matter what. It’s extremely important that we come away with at least a point in each one. Three would be better, but I have to try and be realistic. 

Adriana:As I mentioned before, big challenges await. Our players will get out of their comfort zone and  we get to see a new style of play. It is a win win. Hopefully on the pitch too.  

Earl: I think we walk out with 4 or 5 points. I think we beat San Diego, there is not a doubt about that one. But the other two? As much as it pains me to say it, Phoenix is a great team. I do not like their fans or their antics, but the squad on the pitch… incredible. I see us drawing with them, unless it gets chippy then we lose. Lou City… I have faith in New Mexico United, and the squad that is put together, but Lou City is a champion for a reason. But I feel like United can hang with them. I have us drawing with them. 

Andy: Phoenix, the hatred is real and the neighbors are noisy. We can hate the most hated more than anyone!

Jacob: A good showing in those three matches will give us a lot of confidence going in the playoffs. We play one of the tougher non-division schedules but I think we are going to be able to hang with the best of them still. Being on the road shouldn’t hinder us too much but I still see us losing one maybe two. Best case, we go 2-1-0, worst case, 0-3-0, most realistic, case we go 1-1-1. 

  1. We have a lot of great talent up and down the pitch. Who are the offensive and defensive MVPs when all is said and done? 

Seth: Amando and Kalen

Adriana: Defensively, I am going for Kalen Ryden and offensively, Amando Moreno. 

Earl: Offensive: Amando Defensive: Kalen

Andy: Amando will want to fill the boots of Wehan in goal terms if not work rate. The newbies upfront need to fire early but what I saw of ‘Chelo’ makes me wonder whether he might rise up to the crowd and The Curse’ ferver!

Jacob: On defense it’s a pretty easy call. Kalen is one of the best in the league and he will show that again this season. I am banging the Brian Brown drum this offseason and I’m not going to stop now! He will lead the team in goals. He will get plenty of assists. He may even win the golden boot race. 

Sombrero Man watches as Austin Yearwood sends in a cross. Phot by Blue Mountain Images
  1. We talked about the season last year and if it was a disappointment or a success. What has to happen this year for it to be deemed a success and will it happen?

Seth: A return to the playoffs at minimum. With all of the talent that was brought in during the off-season, anything less will likely feel like a disappointment. 

Adriana:Now that our state is partially open.. First, our team having home matches in front of an amazing crowd, second finding the perfect  combination of attack and last, bring La Copa to our state. Which is the ultimate reward. 

Earl: Easy answer for any club fan, winning cups is ”the only success”. More elaborate answer, winning the group is the first successful feat. Deep run in the playoffs. It is a symbol that we belong in playoffs, not a fluke in or a one and done team. But most of all, winning the Cup will signify ULTIMATE success because that is what a season is based on. 

Andy: Improvement year on year, a step forward and eventually a Championship crown. 

Jacob: When I look how last year played out and the acquisitions we made this offseason I think a supporter shield and USL cup are legitimate goals. I think if we don’t win our group and we fail to make the western conference finals then I would be slightly disappointed in the season. 

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. 

Surprising MVP all the way to a super fan look alike, these mid season superlatives have it all

Surprising MVP all the way to a super fan look alike, these mid season superlatives have it all

 It’s the halfway point of this abbreviated season and a gentleman by the name of David Talbot threw out the idea for some mid-season awards and I want to thank him for that because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. This season has been interesting. We had a loss on the road then had to wait 18 week for a chance to redeem ourselves. Which we did, in a big way. With 5 wins since the restart and only one draw and one loss sees us sitting on top of our group 5 clear ahead of El Paso. 

   New faces have produced and our returning players have shown last year wasn’t a fluke so let’s talk about that and a few more things. 

Offensive Player 

Let’s start with an exciting one. There are a few choices here that are intriguing but it’s gotta be Chris Wehan. 5 goals since the restart and that’s with sitting out the last match. Throw in an assist and a team leading 11 chances created it’s easy to see why he is the offensive player of the mid season. 

  Best Quarantine Look

    I gotta go with David Estrada doing his best impression of our good friend and leader of los cursitos, Xavier Obando. David let his hair and beard grow during the quarantine and I love it! Professional athletes are just like us over the quarantine period. 

Defensive Player

Photo Courtesy RSL Monarchs

It has to go to the team leader in clearances, blocks, and interceptions and that’s the new face on the back line, Kalen Ryden. Kalen has brought a championship pedigree along with tremendous talent from Real Monarchs and it’s showing in the stat sheet and results. Last year through 35 matches if you include the playoff match we had a total of 4 clean sheets and an average goals against of 1.7 per game. This year with Kalen playing in all 8 matches we have had a total of 3 clean sheets and an average of 1.3 goals against per match. That drops to a .71 if you take out the Phoenix match which is being proven as an anomaly. He has been an incredible presence on that back line and has helped lead a drastic change in our defense. 

     Best Podcast Appearance

The 3 Honest Lads podcast is a great usl podcast where broadcasters Mike Watts and Devon Kerr let their hair down and tell us how they really feel. In their last episode they had Las Cruces native Josh Suggs on. Now Suggs got in a little bit of trouble last year for some comments on the Cursecast last year so he was a little more careful about what he said but he opened up about a lot of things including the process of joining New Mexico United. 

Best New Face

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

This one is by far the toughest but I’m gonna go with Amando Moreno. He is tied with Wehan with 11 chances created albeit in one more appearance, he also has a team leading 3 assists and is tied with Devon Sandoval for second on the team with 2 goals. That goal number is sure to rise as he has found his confidence after missing a few early chances. His energy is unmatched on the pitch. He flies around everywhere and has been solid when we opt to high press. Kalen was obviously in the running here as was another gentleman who will be mentioned shortly. 

Best Keeper

Well there isn’t much competition here but I wanted to talk about Cody Mizell a little bit. The defensive numbers mentioned above show that the back line and Cody are doing outstanding as a unit but what role has Cody played in that? A large one that’s for sure. We all hear him on the broadcast supporting his back line after they come up with a big play or helping them get in position in front of him which is huge for a team. He also has a solid percentage of 64.3. Throw in some highlight reel saves and those awesome keeper kits and Cody has been on top of his game this season. 

Best Goal

This might be the easiest of them all. No offense to any of Wehan’s goals or Moreno’s chip last week, but this one goes to the absolute banger from Saalih Muhammad. We all remember it and I encourage you to watch it again and again but I’ll do my best to describe it in all of its glory. It started with Dev making a well timed run and receiving the ball behind the back line of Colorado Springs. On his first touch he tried to beat the keeper but Melvin made a great save and sent the ball flying back towards midfield. That’s where Saalih was waiting and he struck it on the volley so pure that I’m surprised the back of the net could contain it. I’m still left breathless every time I watch that goal and can’t believe that it didn’t win goal of the month, sorry Dev. 

Most Underrated

Daniel Bruce has been incredible this year in ways that go largely unnoticed. He has played all over the pitch including on the back line. He has gotten way more minutes this year then in the early part of last year because he keeps doing the little things. His stats don’t jump of the page by any means, no goals or shots and only one assist, but he has several “hockey assists” and has made hustle play after hustle play on both sides of the ball. I know last year we fell in love with his energy and attaching abilities but this year he is a well rounded player that is doing whatever it takes to help the collective. 

 Most likely to improve over the second half

Photo Credit: Phoenix Rising FC

There really haven’t been that many players that aren’t playing well right now but I will cheat for the first time in this article and mention 2 names here. First let’s start with another new face, Romeo Parkes. Parkes has had chance after chance to put the ball in the back of the net and has only found it once. That was the beautiful header from outside the box against Phoenix. Those shots will eventually start finding the back of the net though. Romeo’s goal scoring prowess is there. He has scored goals everywhere he has played and here will be no different. Next is Rashid Tetteh. Tetteh has been injured most of the season, making only 3 appearances and playing a total of 74 minutes. While he has struggled in those minutes I believe he will get back to the old Tetteh from last year. We have seen glimpses of last year’s Tetteh but I think he might have come back a little too soon. Watch for him to work his way back into the starting line up, making an already good back line even better. 

Best player with wood in his name

Alright you caught me. This is really just an award to talk about Austin Yearwood. This back line was decimated to begin the restart. David Najem and Josh Suggs were injured. Manny Padilla was released from the team. Tetteh missed time. Justin Schmidt is probably done for the year. Other than Ryden and Mizell, Austin has the most minutes played on the team. Austin has been in the lineup for all three of the clean sheets. He had the second most clearances and the second most interceptions. Austin won a spot on the usl team of the week following our clean sheet against Colorado Springs last weekend. He and Kalen have held it down in the back and that needs to be recognized. 

Shout outs

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

There are a few players I haven’t mentioned yet that I want to shout out. Sam Hamilton has been a great asset to this team with his versatility and defending. While he doesn’t have the minutes that Ryden and Yearwood have he still has contributed to the three clean sheets. Ryan Williams and Juan Guzman have been rock solid in the midfield which often gets overlooked. The midfield play leads to better defending and more chances to score. This club features 2 rookies who have both looked good in the limited playing time they have had. Joris Ahlinvi has a start and scored a goal. Samson Sergi has come on as a sub in 5 matches and looked big and fast up top. 

Best Albuquerque Native

Devon Sandoval was the first signing. He scored the first goal and is the local boy everyone loves and for good reason. Devon brings so much to this club on and off the pitch, it’s hard to put a value on him. He’s strong and skilled on the pitch and community driven and caring off of it. He’s the perfect teammate and leader for this club and community and we don’t deserve him. 

MVP

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

There is one name that I have been raving about the last month that I haven’t mentioned in this article. The MVP could be any number of players including Wehan or Ryden I have to go with midfielder from New Jersey, Andrew Tinari. Now I know this is going to be controversial but please hear me out. Tinari has only one goal this season along with zero assists but he does have at least 3 hockey assists. His defense in the midfield has started several attacks for us. He rarely makes mistakes yet causes turnover after turnover on the other side of the ball. What he does on the defensive side is what sticks out to me. He leads the team in tackles, is second in tackles won and is fourth in duels won. All from a 5’6” midfielder. His distribution is huge as well. His 79.8% passing accuracy doesn’t jump off the page, it’s lower than some others because he is constantly going forward. He has been the most complete player on the pitch and has directly impacted our offense while also being a huge reasons for the turn around on defense this year. For those reasons he is my mid season Most Valuable Player. 

King’s of Group C

  We have been waiting for this. Since the restart United has played some really good football, A 2-1 win in Colorado Springs, a 2-2 draw in El Paso, and a 2-1 win in El Paso. But they hadn’t put it all together for a full 90 minutes. Until tonight. That’s a bad sign for the rest of Group C by the way. 

     The first 25 minutes or so were pretty even in terms of possession and control, and yes those are 2 different things. Then in the 30’ United won a throw in on the far side of the field. Wehan threw it in and 8 United players ended up touching the ball on the way to a goal. Kalen Ryden played a beautiful long ball to the feet of Daniel Bruce who lost control briefly but was able to chase it down and get it to Wehan, who gave it right back to Bruce. Romeo Parkes came along at the top of the box and received it from Bruce and played a through ball for Chris Wehan on a great diagonal run. Wehan squared the ball across the box and Amando Moreno opened his account with United by chesting it into the back of the net.  This may be my goal of the season from the club. It was a perfect team goal. 

     Then second before half time my preseason MVP pick, Wehan, added to his stat sheet for the match with a goal of his own. It came off a turnover created by the pressure of Andrew Tinari, more on him in a bit. Moreno got on the loose ball and quickly got it ahead to Parkes, who started up top in place of Devon Sandoval. Parkes used some fancy footwork to get the ball just inside the near corner of the box and then used his big body to keep it there while he waited for help. The help came in the form of Bruce. He came streaking past Romeo who delivered a cheeky pass which Bruce quickly squared it to a wide open Wehan on the back post and he powered it past the keeper and into the back of the net. 

The second half saw OKC keep a lot of possession. They ended the first half with a 56% to 44% lead in possession and only expanded that in the second half as they tried to erase a 2 goal deficit. But this is where possession and control really begin to show their differences. Even with OKC possessing the ball the majority of the second half they were never in control. The few chances they had were not of a high quality. 48 minutes into the second half it was still 2-0 until the young United rookie from France, Joris Ahlinvi, opened his professional account. After earning a free kick just outside the box he lined up a shot. It was terrible. It never got close to getting over the wall but fell right back to him and he capitalized on the second chance. His low shot found its way through the defenders and past the diving keeper into the lower left corner of the goal. 

From start to finish this match was never in doubt. The defense looked drastically improved and aside from a missed penalty kick that was awarded from a soft penalty in the first place there weren’t any real threats all night. Cody made a few saves but none were as challenging as last week’s. All in all this was the most complete performance of the season and possibly the young life of the club. 

3 Things 

  1. This has to start with Chris Wehan. Wehan has now scored in 4 straight matches since the restart of the season. He also added an assist to his stat sheet tonight and while not an official stat he has a couple of, what I call, hockey assists. Which means his pass led to the pass that led to the goal. He also has been a pesky defender in the high press and has forced several turnovers. All of this is really just for me to toot my own horn and say that I picked him as my MVP this season. 
  2. The new guys. Armando Moreno finally found the back of the net tonight as did Joris. Andrew Tinari has been spectacular in the midfield this season. His passing and defense have led to a lot of chances for United. Then there was Romeo. After a few matches out on the wing he finally got his chance up top. He should never play on the wing again after seeing him tonight. He was dangerous up there with his hold up play, which led to a goal, and his speed and skill almost led to 2 more had he been able to get a finishing touch on either of his chances. 
  3. D-fence! A clean sheet! Finally! We should have had one last week but thanks to a missed PK, a few solid saves, and a great defensive effort from the whole team we got it this week. Muhammad looked great again as a Center Back and we saw the restart debut of Rashid Tetteh as he came on in the second half and looked awesome as usual. Really top to bottom the whole club had a solid defensive night and should be proud of themselves. If the last 2 matches prove to be real from a defensive perspective then the league needs to look out. 

Road Warriors

With a chance to ice the match, Chris Wehan lined up a penalty kick in the 3rd minute of second half stoppage time. His run up was confident and he powered a shot towards the bottom left hand corner. Logan Ketterer guesses correctly though and perried the shot away, keeping El Paso’s hope alive.

In the end it didn’t matter. United hung on and vaulted themselves to the top spot in group C. The nail biting nature of the last few minutes wasn’t indicative to how I felt during the vast majority of the match.

El Paso had some scary crosses early in the first half but there was never anybody on the receiving end. Then NMU took control. In the 35th minute Austin Yearwood earned a free kick from a dangerous angle. Devon Sandoval fought off the defense and got is head to it directing it to the near post where the aforementioned Wehan was waiting unchecked and put the ball into the top of the net.

14 minutes later Wehan dispossessed El Paso near midfield and found Moreno who took one touch before passing it up ahead to Sandoval who also took one touch before firing the ball to the lower left corner past a flat footed Ketterer who couldn’t get stop it. NMU took that 2-0 lead to halftime and thanks to a couple of great Cody Mizell saves. The first in the 63rd minute from a deflected shot outside the box from Richie Ryan. The second came off of a free kick that found Yuma’s head and was headed for the crossbar or just below it. Both of them have a chance to be the USL save of the week.

United was cruising after that until a penalty on Kalen Ryden led to El Paso’s lone goal. The Wehan penalty chance that could have sealed the match came off of some brilliant work from Daniel Bruce. Bruce came in in the 71st minute and in second half stoppage time he had the ball just inside the box with 2 El Paso defenders on him. He drove towards the touch line then cut back between the 2 defenders and got tripped up. Wehan proceeded to miss as mentioned above but in the end El Paso couldn’t muster anything else up as time finally ran out.

3 things

  1. Austin Yearwood and emergency Center Back Saalih Muhammad.
    They did a fantastic job on the left side of the defense. Yearwood has been underrated since coming to New Mexico last year but his hustle and length help him shut down that left side. Muhammad got the somewhat surprising start at Center Back a long side Kalen Ryden and performed solidly. He was forced to leave his normal midfield role because of injuries to Rashid Tetteh, Sam Hamilton, and Justin Schmidt.
  2. The Defense as a Whole.
    This matched saw the return of one back line member that we hadn’t seen since the restart, Josh Suggs. He was a breath of fresh next to Kalen Ryden and even with a makeshift duo of Center Backs the defense held its own and probably should have had the shut out. Cody Mizell also had a fantastic game with 2 great saves and the only goal coming from the spot
  3. Chris Wehan is Everywhere.
    Since the restart Wehan has 3 goals and could have had a fourth had he converted the PK. He scored the opening goal in this match and stole the ball that led to the second goal. He has been pesky on defense, versatile on offense, and has had solid finishing. Him and Devon create a dangerous duo up front for NMU