United opens 2022 season against Las Vegas


At long last, the 2022 USL Championship season is underway. And I’m stuck at home.

Okay, not really stuck, but, I’m home with my boys where we’ll enjoy listening to Tyler Ortega and Chris Hurst on the ESPN+ broadcast. And I couldn’t be happier. Football is back in a big way and the expectations for the season are clear, United has to be better at closing out the close games. The hope, as always, is to make the playoffs. That journey starts today.

A lot has changed in Albuquerque since the end of the 2021 season. A new coach has been brought in, well moved to a new office anyway. Between the front office and the roster, there have been a lot of new faces in and around the team shop and locker room. But with those changes come the hopes for a new campaign.

After missing out on the playoffs for the first time in club history last year, new Head Coach and Technical Director Zach Prince knew he had work to do. He set out on what he called a very aggressive off-season pursuit of players such as Neco Brett, Will Seymore, Tabort Etaka Preston, and Raddy Ovouka. Prince’s signings show that he’s serious about strengthening the club’s weaknesses from 2021. Sure, there are plenty of returning players, but the new signings show a willingness from both Prince and the front office to go out and spend money to bring in quality players. Brett and Tabort could be in the running for Offensive Player of the Year in November.

In Ovouka, Prince brought in a player who has gone up against one of the top talents in the Premier League, Sadio Mane, and showed a serious level of skill. Alexis Souahy also joined the squad and brings additional depth to a defense that surrendered 37 goals in ’21. 37 goals allowed was actually top 10 in the league in fewest goals allowed, but additional depth is nice especially if the club gets hit by the injury bug again. Also joining the squad were Jerome Kiesewetter, who is looking to rebound from a less than stellar 2021, and the 19-year-old Carl Sainte. This is a club that could be on the verge of something great this season.

All of that starts today against Las Vegas Lights FC.

The USL has gone back to a full schedule after two years abbreviated by COVID-19 and they’ve kept one of the most popular features of 21, cross-conference play. It is still a few weeks until United gets their first taste of that this season, but the western conference action gets into full swing immediately. Las Vegas had a 2021 they would like to forget after they finished near the bottom of the league. They’re another club with a new coach and a ton of new faces, so the sky is the limit. Perhaps their arrangement with LAFC will actually help them this year. They don’t even have a full roster posted anywhere that’s easily accessible, so it’s hard to give an idea of who to watch or what their keys to the match are.

That just lets us focus on United and their keys to today’s match.

After seeing the club in action just twice this preseason, they already show improvement inside the box and cleaning up chances and rebounds. Offensively that is the biggest key for United. The club has to create clear chances and then make the most of them. Neco will likely be the target man today at The Lab and the delivery from Chris Wehan and Tabort will be crucial to making the opportunities appear.

Projected XI

With so many players that could possibly step into a starting role every week, trying to project a lineup is nearly impossible. Even in our chats with Prince, he’s said that it could be fluid from week to week. No matter what though, this is a tough lineup to crack.

Player to Watch

Neco Brett – Legion’s leading scorer last season, Brett has firmly established himself as a bonified threat in the USL. He steps into a role that United sorely needed depth at last season after injuries and medical concerns for two of the forwards. Brett provides pace and scoring threats every time he touches the ball and could have a field day against a Las Vegas side that struggled to keep anyone out of the net in ’21.

Prediction:

2-0 United, Neco Brett scoring the opener in the 25th.

Sunday night’s match is scheduled to kickoff at 5:05 P.M. MT from The Lab in Albuquerque. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ and broadcast locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM.