Late last week, United Soccer Leagues announced the cancellation of the USL League Two 2020 season. This was the first major update from the league since affirming their intent to play back on March 30. This announcement follows in the footsteps of several other leagues, both in the United States, and abroad, who have cancelled seasons since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that has rocked the global sports landscape. Other leagues, including NISA, NPSL and France’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have announced cancellation of their league seasons as well.
When New Mexico United announced that they would be fielding a U23 side in USL League Two for the first time this year, I was excited about the potential that it might bring as a pathway to the professional ranks for local soccer players. When team owner Peter Trevisani hinted that the newly founded amatuer side would be playing at venues throughout the state, my excitement grew even more.
Naturally, the announcement that the League Two season would be cancelled was incredibly disappointing to hear as a fan. I can only imagine what that news means for athletes and coaches trying to hone their craft and continue to play the game they love.
Despite the necessity to wait another year, my excitement to see this team in action remains. Though any announcements about roster signings, coaching staff, and venues will be on hold, I thought that we could still take a look at some promising young players with local ties. Though these players won’t be playing USL League Two this year, perhaps they could come over next season once things start getting back to normal.
So- I will still try to predict (at least in part) a list of potential players for the roster of the first ever New Mexico United U23 squad, which is now a year away from becoming a reality. The question then becomes, where should we look to find these players?
In Episode 1 of the current season of The Curse Cast, Trevisani stated that the U23 team will consist, at least partly, of players from the High Performance Program, and local players who have gone on to play at a high level elsewhere. Ever since the Lobos men’s soccer team folded more than a year ago, those local players who want to play collegiate soccer at a high level are forced to look in other cities and states.
So we can play the guessing game. I scoured topdrawersoccer.com, MaxPreps, and countless NCAA Division 1 program websites to try to compile a list of as many players I could find who could potentially suit up for the U23s this summer or in the future. I might get some of these names right, I might be totally off-base on others, and I may have missed some names entirely. Even if none of these players end up on the New Mexico United U23 roster, at least we can become familiar with local players to keep an eye on as their collegiate and professional careers continue.
USL League Two is one of the top pre-professional leagues in the nation. Many athletes choose to play in League Two during the summer as a way to train and stay in shape during summer break before their next collegiate season.
As I began to consider what a New Mexico United U23 roster might look like, I had to wonder what the USL League Two rules are for constructing a roster. After a fruitless search on the league’s official website, I came across the following quote on Wikipedia:
“In addition, PDL squads often also include standout high school and junior club players, as well as former professionals seeking to continue competing at a high level, often having been forced to retire from top flight competition due to age or injury. PDL rules dictate that a maximum of eight players on each team’s 26-man roster can be over 23 years old, while at least three players on each team’s roster must be 18 or younger.”
This seemed like a good place to start, but being that that particular part of the Wikipedia entry hadn’t been updated since the days of the PDL, before the USL League Two moniker, I wasn’t sure if those rules were accurate, so I tweeted into the void to try to find an answer to my question, and was given a response from Cincinnati Dutch Lions FC GM and Assistant/Goalkeeping coach Brandon Ponchak, who told me that the eight player limit for those over 23 does still apply, but there is no minimum requirement for younger players. He said that they have played against players as young as 15 in the past. While I don’t necessarily think that the New Mexico United U23s will feature any players that young, it did help me realize a possible age range of players to keep an eye on.
Armed with that information, I was able to narrow down my list to a more reasonable number of players. I decided to choose two players from each of the following outlets who could potentially be interested in playing in USL League Two: New Mexico United’s High Performance Program, former Lobos, other NCAA programs and New Mexico High School players. As we look at these potential names for this roster, it’s important to remember that a year from now, they could have other plans, or possibly have reached an age in which they don’t want to continue to play amatuer soccer.
High Performance Program
New Mexico United’s youth development program features some of the best young players in the area. Some of these older players could be available in the late spring and throughout the summer to suit up for the U23’s. It makes a lot of sense for the club to focus on these players’ continued development, as the HPP gives them an extra opportunity to grow as players. Though some of these players may be too young, a few could be ready to play in USL League Two. Here are some 17 and 18 year olds to keep an eye on:
- Gabe Legendre- Midfielder- the Senior at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho is one of the more recognizable names on this list. As the first player announced for the High Performance Program, Legendre famously made an appearance alongside professional players last summer during New Mexico United’s international friendly with Cardiff City FC. He has stayed busy since then as well, scoring 30 goals in 2019 for the Storm, who reached the semifinals of the 5A state tournament as a 4th seed. Legendre also suits up for the New Mexico Runners, the local MASL2 team that plays at Santa Ana Star Center, where he had eight goals on the season. If I had to pick one player that I think will for sure be on the U23 roster, it would be Legendre.
- Lamar Bynum- Midfielder- Bynum had a great Junior season at Rio Rancho High, scoring 13 goals and nine assists while helping his team reach the 5A semi-finals. Like Legendre, Bynum plays club soccer for NM Rush, though he was on the U17 roster. Getting experience at the USL League Two level immediately after graduating from high school could end up paying for Bynum, and for United.
Though the University of New Mexico Men’s soccer program has since folded, many players on the 2018 roster went on to play at other universities and could still be interested in playing in New Mexico.
- Ford Parker- Goalkeeper- Parker, who turns 24 in August, might be an interesting name to keep an eye on. In the 2018 season, the Sandia High School grad played in 14 games, making 63 saves and allowing 34 goals. Parker transferred to UC Irvine for the 2019 season, where he appeared in 18 games for the Anteaters, allowing 21 goals and winning 7 games. Should he come over to New Mexico United U23s, he would likely be one of the older players on the roster, but he would give the team a solid goalkeeping presence.
- Nick Williams- Defender- Though Williams has yet to appear in a college soccer match, as he was a redshirt Freshman at UNM in 2018 and did not play during his Sophomore season at UNLV, he could be a valuable part of the backfield should he come back to his home state to play for the U23 squad. In high school, Williams’ Albuquerque Academy team appeared in the state title game all four years he was there, and won twice. Williams had two goals in four appearances with the Albuquerque Sol last summer as well.
Other NCAA Programs
Former Lobos shouldn’t be the only players with local ties to be considered for this squad, as many talented soccer stars take their talents to other NCAA institutions.
- Toshiki Yasuda- Midfielder- The Las Cruces native most recently played for Grand Canyon University, completing his senior season last fall, scoring two goals in six games. After transferring from Southern Methodist University, Yasuda missed some time at GCU due to injury. According to a “Two Truths and a Lie” video posted to the GCU Men’s Soccer Twitter account, Yasuda is missing half of one toe. As a youth player, Yasuda was involved with FC Dallas Academy teams, and was even an alternate for the U.S. Youth National team for the U17 World Cup. Having recently turned 22, playing a USL League Two season after completing his collegiate career could be an option for Yasuda prior to turning professional.
- Alex Touche- Defender- Touche, an Albuquerque Academy alum and current center back for the University of Pennsylvania is an offensive minded defender. Touche has 8 career goals in three seasons at Penn. He also appeared in nine games for Albuquerque Sol last season and notched two goals. His twin brother Charles also plays in the Ivy League at Cornell.
New Mexico High Schools
I decided to stick with only seniors here, though it’s possible that younger players could end up signing with the U23s, especially a year from now. Both of these players helped their teams be successful and had incredible statistical seasons last year.
- Pedro Chavez- Midfielder- Chavez, a senior at Monte del Sol charter in Santa Fe, led all New Mexico boy’s high school players in 2019 with 42 goals. He had a few individual game standouts, scoring four goals in a 9-0 win against Moreno valley, six goals in a 10-0 win against Questa and seven goals in a 10-0 win against Rehoboth Christian. His play helped lead his team to the A-3A semi-finals, where they fell to Santa Fe rival St. Michael’s, the eventual champion.
- Leon Olacio- Midfielder- Olacio helped Gadsden to earn a 5 seed and a trip to the quarterfinals in a strong 5A tournament this past season. The senior Panther was the top assist-getter for all New Mexico High School players in 2019. His 42 assists nearly double that of second place in that category (Alex Waggoner, Taos, 25 assists). His ability to distribute would certainly help the New Mexico United U23 squad, and he would represent the southern part of the state if he were to play.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the player pool that the staff at New Mexico United will be looking at as they assemble the roster for the U23 squad. There are countless strong players with local ties who could be looking to further their soccer career in USL League Two that I didn’t include, such as Billy Jones, Bailey Letherman, Isaiah Madrid, Joseph Ortiz, Anthony Munoz, Nick Barriero and many others. When USL League Two resumes play next season, these stellar local players could make an impact if they were to sign with New Mexico United U23. And if they don’t…support them anyway, they deserve it!