By Josh Kaskinen | Photo: Adam Nish
At long last, the time has come for soccer fans in Albuquerque to finally be able to see their beloved club in action once again as we inch closer and closer to the beginning of New Mexico United’s second season.
At noon on Saturday at the University of New Mexico Soccer Complex, all 22 rostered players for United, along with a few trialists, will participate in an intersquad match consisting of “Team Somos” vs. “Team Unidos. The club was originally scheduled to play a friendly against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, but due to a winter storm, the Four Corners Cup opponent is snowed in, and will be unable to make the trek south on I-25, causing New Mexico United to change their plans at the last minute. While the match won’t be played for stats, standings or any sort of glory, and surely some fans will be disappointed not to see a true opposing club, it does give fans a chance to watch all of the club’s players, including new signings, as well as favorite returning players from a season ago.
But the fun of the intersquad friendly does stop at just a simple 11-on-11 match. United announced on Twitter that there will be a penalty kick shootout at the end of the match, pitting the sides and their honorary team captains (and president and vice-president of The Curse Supporter’s groups) David Carl (Team Somos) and R.J. Montaño (Team Unidos) against each other. The team that wins the shootout will receive $750 for charity, with the runner-up receiving $250. Team Somos will be shooting for Watermelon Mountain Ranch, while Team Unidos will be shooting for Cuidando Los Ninos. Despite the disappointment of the change of plans, the club adapted quickly to think up a new plan that will keep fans happy and support local charities in the process.
New Mexico United has had a steady offseason, announcing fairly early on that they had retained several players for the upcoming campaign, including goalkeepers Cody Mizell and Ben Beaury, forwards Devon Sandoval, Chris Wehan and Daniel Bruce, midfielders Juan-Pablo Guzman, Sam Hamilton, David Estrada, Ryan Williams and Saalih Muhammed, and defenders Josh Suggs, Justin Schmidt, Austin Yearwood and Rashid Tetteh. This was a solid core for the club to build around as off-season signings were getting underway, even without a handful of fan favorite players returning including Santi Moar (Phoenix Rising FC), Kenny Akamatsu, and Ethen Sampson (Baroka FC). Shortly thereafter, they announced the signing of defender Manny Padilla, bringing the total number of returning players up to 15. The club has been quiet about the status of forward Kevaughn Frater, but all signs point to the fact that the young Jamaican will likely not be returning this season (more on that in a moment).
Many fans will be curious to watch the new players. Shortly after the announcement of the re-signing of the core group of 15 players, United slowly began to reveal the names of new players that they would be bringing in for the 2020 campaign, starting with forward/midfielder Amando Moreno, who played in the MLS last season for the Chicago Fire. Though he didn’t see a lot of action in Chicago (seven appearances, zero goals or assists) a return to the USL Championship could be a return to form for Moreno, who had ten goals the year prior with New York Red Bulls II. Judging from social media posts from the club with photos from preseason training, Moreno will be wearing number 10 this season, which is the first indication that Frater may not be returning. As a left-winger, Moreno slots in nicely as a replacement for the departing Santi Moar, and could be a key piece in bringing the offensive production that Moar was known for a season ago.
The second new player announcement was left-back Kalen Ryden, who signed his new contract on his wedding day. The defender is coming off a title winning season for Real Monarchs SLC, where he appeared in 28 matches, scoring three goals and two assists. He’ll fit in nicely in the centre and left part of the backfield, alongside Schmidt, Suggs, Yearwood and Tetteh.
Next up for the fresh faces is Romeo Parkes, who the club announced on January 8th would be joining on loan from Sligo Rovers of the Irish Premiere Division. The Jamaican forward was one of the top goal-scorers in the Premiere Division last season, scoring 11 goals. He also has four career caps and one goal for the Jamaican national team. Parkes return to the United States doesn’t come without controversy, however, as he received a USL and FIFA ban in 2016 when he played for Pittsburgh Riverhounds for an incident in which he kicked New York Red Bulls II defender Karl Ouimette in the back. By all indications, he has moved past that incident and has played cleanly ever since. As a strong centre-forward, the Parkes signing is another reason that it’s unlikely we’ll see Frater in black and yellow this season.
On January 16, the club announced a pair of signings in rookie forward Samson Sergi out of Xavier University and a third rostered goalkeeper, Philipp Biegl of Germany. Biegl appeared in 34 matches for German club TSV Landsberg last season, conceding 63 goals and earning 6 clean sheets. Biegl should help to bolster an already solid goalkeeping core for United in 2020. Sergi led the Musketeers in scoring last season with 10 goals in 17 games played. He brings an offensive talent as a striker that could prove valuable this season. Now boasting a talented forward group of Sandoval, Bruce, Parkes, Moreno and Sergi, United has secured what looks to be a powerful offense for the season to come.
Late last week, the club announced the signing of another defender, this time a right-back. David Najem comes to Albuquerque from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, where he had one goal in 12 starts a year ago. A member of the Afghanistan National Team, Najem helps to bring depth on defense that was somewhat lacking for New Mexico last year.
The most recent addition to the club was announced earlier today, as midfielder Andrew Tinari brings the current roster up to a total of 22 players. Also from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tinari scored five goals and five assists last season. Najem is not the only new teammate that Tinari has familiarity with, as he and Moreno were on the same New York Red Bulls II squad in 2018.
This is not the first time that United will be playing a match at the UNM soccer complex. Last season, they hosted a mid-season friendly against international opponent Cardiff City FC of the English Championship League. Fans packed the stands and had an enjoyable evening as they saw the club play to a 1-1 draw against the Bluebirds. The place should be crowded again, as fans will be itching to watch their team for the first time in nearly four months.
Regardless of the fact that this pre-season tune up match means nothing in regards to season standings, expect fans to pack the UNM soccer complex to get their first glimpse of the second edition of New Mexico United. Kick-off is scheduled for noon on Saturday, with UNM students able to get free admission with a student ID. For those that can’t make it to UNM, the match will be streamed on YouTube as well.