Sells, who will be the franchise’s third head coach, is the technical director for the New Mexico Rush soccer club.
“His reputation is pretty stellar, he’s had great success at the youth level and he is now the national technical director for Rush,” Sol general manager Larry Espinoza said. “His experience from a coaching and playing standpoint makes him fantastically qualified for the job.”
Sells hopes to play a more possession-heavy style, building the attack from the backline. He wants a more adventurous attacking style than in years past. Last season, the Sol finished with a minus-15 goal differential, mustering just 17 goals in 14 games.
“We have a great soccer community, but unfortunately you have to get results to get people to show up,” Sells said. “My goal is to work with the players and educate them about different formations and different systems based on game situations.”
The Sol conducted a national search and talked with candidates from New Mexico, Texas, Florida and New York. Club officials used a hiring matrix assigning weighted point values to different coaching attributes.
“I went to people I trust in the soccer community, and his name came up a lot,” Sol president Ron Patel said. “I heard a lot that nobody was more qualified to do this than Justin Sells. I have a lot of confidence we’re going to win a lot of games with Justin Sells as head coach.”
The contract is for one season.
Matt Gordon, who was the Sol’s assistant coach in its inaugural season in 2013, has served as head coach the last three seasons. Gordon and the club parted ways after the 2017 season when the Sol finished 2-10-2.
Despite a disappointing record, the Sol had its best attended season in club history drawing 10,060 total fans. The Sol averaged 1,264 fans a game at St. Pius High School and 2,282 fans a game for the three it played at UNM.
“I think it’s a new chapter, we’re going to see a different flavor of the Sol,” Patel said. “We’ve always been very defensive minded, I see him more possession, more attack minded. I think it’s a new direction.”
Sells is a logical choice for offensive minded soccer. After all his name is still scattered throughout the Lobo soccer record book. Sells, who played for UNM from 1994-97, is first in career points (132), goals (57), shots (322), and hat tricks (5).
A major emphasis this year will be on mining Albuquerque area talent.
“I want to find local guys,” Sells said. “There are a lot of good local players, former Lobo players and with proper preparation they can contribute to this. There’s a handful of those guys that are experienced college players and for whatever reason it is hasn’t work out. My goal is to try and get those guys back playing here.”
Sells noted the advantage of pulling local players is the ability to get a head start on season training in the spring.
He cited Luke Lawrence a Sol alum and Lobo senior who is trying out for Penn FC in the USL, the second tier of American professional soccer. If Lawrence doesn’t get his USL shot this year, he would be a prime target to return to the Sol.
“There have been a lot of good players that have come out of New Mexico that are often overlooked for some reason,” Espinoza said. “With Justin being more of a local guy, this presents a greater opportunity for local statewide players to give a shot at tryouts.”
The next steps are setting open tryout dates for January and February. Sells wants to get a group of 15-20 players he can monitor and train heading into the spring.
“This is a new challenge for me and to me that’s exciting,” Sells said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to put a good product on the field.”