Ahead of their second season, we look at how New Mexico United’s season could go on opposite ends of the spectrum.
New Mexico United came out hot last year. After losing only one of their first 14 matches, the fans raised their expectations of the club and were left disappointed with how the season ended.
A deep Open Cup run was a point of contention among fans. Some thought it was a waste of resources even before United started to fall down the league table. Others, like myself, saw it as great exposure for our state that is often forgotten. But, even the most optimistic among us can’t argue the fact that it hurt us in the league.
After an offseason of moves, there are many questions about what the club can achieve. I’m here to answer that as well as the opposite side of the spectrum. It’ll force me to tap into my pessimistic side, but I’m going to look at the worst-case scenario for this season, too.
What’s Changed for New Mexico United?
So, in order to figure out those scenarios, we must first look at last season and the moves made this off-season.
New Mexico brings back all but two players who logged at least 900 minutes last year. The problem is that those two players accounted for 41.6% of their goals. Kevaughn Frater, 14, and Santi Moar, 11, both left for “greener” pastures. What did United do to replace them? They signed an MLS quality left winger in Amando Moreno, a rookie forward out of Xavier in Sammy Sergi, and a solid goal scorer with USLC experience in Romeo Parkes.
They brought back all of their backline that played any significant role. Then, they added one of the best center backs in the league from last year’s champion in Kalen Ryden and another solid back from one of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference in David Najem. Both of those moves could go a long way in helping a team that finished with only four clean sheets, despite having a very good keeper in Cody Mizell.
The team as a whole completed 82% of their passes and then added Najem’s teammate, Andrew Tinari, and a rookie out of France, Joris Ahlinvi. Overall, I like all the moves they made but is it enough or will they falter again during league play? I’ve got a case for both.
Let’s start by saying that injuries are going to happen. I’m going to assume an average amount of injuries for both the best and worst cases. We will start with what could go wrong for New Mexico
United’s offense suffers from the losses of Kevaughn and Santi because the new pieces don’t mesh with the existing pieces.
With a lot of changes up top, there is going to be an adjustment period. Moreno should fit in well taking Moar’s place, but Parkes is coming over from Ireland after playing a little over a season in the Eastern Conference. Both of which are a little different style than United. Sammy Sergi has had a great preseason from what we have heard. The problem is that all of his goals have come in closed matches, meaning we don’t know how they were scored or who they were scored against. He may not be able to adjust to the league once the regular season kicks off.
The standouts from last season regress.
Devon Sandoval and Chris Wehan both scored double-digit goals. Manny Padilla led the team with seven assists. Wehan was second on the team with six assists. If those three can’t come close to those numbers again, the offense will have a hard time improving even if the newcomers mesh well.
The defensive additions aren’t enough to fix last year’s issues
The backline was very thin last year and United only added two players while losing one in Ethan Sampson. There is no doubting the quality that was added, but did they add enough bodies? Assuming an injury here or there, the backline goes back to being thin again.
All these things could happen and could lead to United missing the playoffs and possibly losing the momentum that they have with the fans. That would be devastating for the state and a blow to the USL.
Now for the flip side, what could go right and where would that land New Mexico come the end of the season?
Moreno and the other offensive pieces mesh with the incumbents and help United forget that Santi and Kevaughn left.
Amando can come in hellbent on proving himself after a lackluster year in Chicago and he has the talent to produce at a very high rate in this league. Romeo had a very promising start to his USL career a few years ago until he was suspended from playing soccer anywhere for a very dangerous kick to the back of Karl Ouimette. He has since played in the USL and then went to Ireland and had a very good year. If he can build off that and show that he has changed since that incident, he could replace most of Frater’s production. Add in the college standout from Xavier and we easily replace the production that left.
Kalen Ryden raises United’s defense to a new level.
Ryden was a key cog in the Real Monarchs’ championship run last year. If he can come in and show some of the guys on the backline what it takes to reach new heights and push Justin Schmidt and others to keep their spot on the field, all of those second-half leads might turn to three points instead of ending in draws.
Wehan and Sandoval build on last season’s success.
Wehan bounced back after a down season. He has the talent to be an MVP candidate and with the talent that is around him, I believe that is a real possibility. As for Devon, He has the experience and passion to lead the team in goals and control games at times. With both of these guys finding their form, it might not matter if the new additions produce.
Now if all of these happen, I think a USL Cup is within reach. The odds of that aren’t great, I know, but I still see New Mexico as a solid contender in the Western Conference. The wild card is the Open Cup. Coach Lesesne mentioned several times last year that the players would revolt if they didn’t try to make a run. The added depth could help maintain league play form during an Open Cup run.
The most likely outcome is obviously somewhere in between, but I like to know what the floor and ceiling are. It’s going to be another exciting season in the USL. You should expect United to be right in the thick of it. Somos Unidos, mi amigos.