By Chris Walker | Photo: NM United
Midfielder Saalih Muhammad is the latest player to depart New Mexico United Agra’s of their 2021 season. Muhammad will be leaving to join United Soccer League Championship latest expansion side, Oakland Roots, formerly of National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).The Roots, who announced they would be joining the USL in mid-September, will be the newest side to join the Western Conference, which welcomed San Diego Loyal in the 2020 season.
Muhammad was born in Oakland and raised in Richmond, California, which is located in San Francisco’s East Bay region. Richmond is a 30 minute ride by public transit to Oakland. Muhammad is no stranger to these stomping grounds.
For Muhammad, this is a second chance at a pro soccer career in his hometown. He was initially set to make that debut in 2017 with North American Soccer League’s (NASL) San Francisco Deltas. However, he missed the entirety of the 2017 season after tearing his Achilles tendon in March.
In 2018, he signed on with USL’s Penn FC. Muhammad has finally made his prolonged professional debut in the United States. This comes after returning from playing soccer in Croatia during the 2015-2016 season.
Muhammad has spent the past two seasons playing both midfielder and centre-back positions for New Mexico United. The latter of the two positions, a significant need by United’s Technical Staff and Muhammad was up for the challenge. Muhammad subbed in at midfielder during a match against rival El Paso Locomotive FC and before long, he was playing as a centre-back because teammate Sam Hamilton would have to go out, due to injury, and no subs were available. From there, Muhammad operated from a mindset of “wherever or whatever he needed to do for his club”, then that is what he would do. He was one of players Technical Director and Head Coach Troy Lesesne tapped to fill the void left in the backline when Rashid Tetteh was out for injury.
Muhammad’s contributions from two seasons with United include: 37 matches with 26 starts, 2,352 minutes played, 30 clearances and 40 interceptions, average pass accuracy of 83 percent, 1 goal, currently up for Fan’s Choice Goal of the Year (Vote Here)
His contributions were made off the pitch as well. Muhammad was involved in the Black community in New Mexico hearing their needs and offering the time he had available. That fire will stay lit to welcome him back for a visit to the 505 in 2021.
Muhammad will now have a chance to play for his hometown club. Perhaps a moment that he felt had came and went when the Deltas folded. But it’s clear now that it was just another prolonged debut years after he had planted seeds along the way.
There is no doubt he will make an impact in his hometown with the younger generations. It’s your homecoming Saalih, we wish you the best!
Read Saalih’s Muhammad’s Letter to Oakland Roots Fans. Click Here