New Mexico United hosts USL Championship’s latest expansion club Oakland Roots
By Sombrero Man | Alvarado Photo Team
It’s time for some Wednesday night soccer in Albuquerque. New Mexico United will finish off their quick two-game homestand Wednesday night at RGCU Field. United is coming off a rollercoaster draw with El Paso Locomotive, a game in which Los Locos scored at the last second to steal a point from the jaws of defeat. United is looking to bounce back from the heartbreak with new addition Chris Wehan back in black and yellow.
“I am really excited…” Wehan stated Tuesday in a press conference. Wehan or as fans call him “Beez” is back after spending half the season with Pacific Division foe Orange County SC. What is rumored to be the biggest USL club to USL club transfer in the history of the league has sent the former UNM Lobo back to Albuquerque midseason. Wehan had this to say about the transfer, “The fact that I am coming back to a place I already know is making this transition a lot easier”. When Technical Director and Head Coach Troy Lesesne asked how it felt to have Chris back Troy stated, “He is a foundational piece of our organization and he has a lot of unfinished business.” Wehan just a few short weeks ago played United’s Wednesday opponent Oakland Roots in Livermore California which is about 45 minutes away from Oakland.
So who are the Oakland Roots? One of two remaining pro teams in the city of Oakland (Major League Baseball’s Athletics being the other) Roots SC plays its home matches at Laney College. Yes, the same Laney College from Last Chance U. The Roots were founded the same year as United (2018) as a NISA team and didn’t begin playing till fall of 2019. In 2020 Oakland was granted the USL East Bay expansion rights and began to play this year in the USL Championship. The Roots in a way this season have been nomads wandering the northern California vineyard fields looking for a home field as the original Laney College field was deemed unfit for USL standards before a June 19th game against the Sacramento Republic. Las Positas College became the “home” pitch for Oakland for a few games, while new turf was being shipped to Laney and installed. Oakland has since returned home to great fan success however on the pitch success has been sub-par. Oakland sits last in the Pacific Division with a record of 2-4-8 and 10 points. 4 of those points came last week after a draw with the Sac Republic and a win against LA Galaxy II.
Players to watch for Oakland will be Max Ornstil, Yohannas Harish, and former United fan favorite Saalih Muhammad. Both Ornstil and Harish found the back of the net Saturday in Oaklands 2-1 victory. Both can be as slimy as an eel in the bay and will snake their way through the United defense especially with Kalen Ryden still listed as Day-to-day. Saalih is returning home for the first time since leaving United and will play his first match at the Lab since October of 2019. Muhammad a native of Richmond California was Oaklands first USL signing. Look to see how Muhammad plays as an opposing player now in the lab. Another factor that I think will be key in this match is our old friend, altitude. The city of Oakland sits just 43 feet above sea level at its highest. Albuquerque sits at 5,335 feet above sea level at the Sunport. A difference of 5,312 feet. This will be Oakland’s first time playing at altitude ever so look for that.
Players to watch for New Mexico United will be Amando Moreno, Justin Schmidt, and Chris Wehan. Moreno in his first match back since rejoining the team after his Gold Cup run sent a ball through the wickets of Logan Ketterer making him the first person to score on him since teammate Brian Brown on July 3rd. Justin Schmidt in the dying moments had a ball deflect off of him leading to it finding the back of the net and the equalizer for El Paso. With Ryden day-to-day, Schmidt will have to shake off the last match and come up big for this United defense. Finally, Wehan will wear number 41. When asked if he felt any pressure to score right away Chris responded simply, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t feel pressure.” Wehan should make an immediate impact especially with former Lobo teammate Devon Sandoval.
Sombrero’s Spin: Well last match was the first match I got 100% correct. Too bad I picked a 1-1 draw. In this match, United will allow Oakland to play fast and quick at the start to tucker them out from the thin air. United wins this one 3-1 with goals by Moreno, Suggs, and Wehan.
Side note: The Albuquerque City Council Monday night voted 7-2 in favor of putting the 50 million dollar stadium bond on the November ballot for voters. I am in the middle of writing an article about the stadium that I hope will be published a week before election day (November 2nd) if not sooner.