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.