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NM United tops Denver University in soccer exhibition

Devon Sandoval’s 9-month-old daughter, Lyanna, greeted him Saturday morning with “Dada,” for the first time.

It was a memorable beginning to what would be a historic day.

The staccato rhythm from the drums of the fan club Sandianistas erratically waned and wavered in the midst of an insistent cross-field breeze, toying not only with the notes but also New Mexico United’s first exhibition game Saturday at the University of New Mexico Soccer and Track Complex.

It marked the first official local appearance for the United, New Mexico’s new professional franchise in the United Soccer League, which starts league play March 9 at Isotopes Park against Fresno FC.

“That was the perfect way to start my day,” Sandoval said of his daughter’s greeting.

A Lobo hero and Eldorado alumnus, Sandoval found the perfect way to end it, as well.

Sandoval’s forward pressure resulted in a mis-hit, and he was able to bounce off the hardened ground, chase down a loose ball and finish into the empty net in the 82nd minute, giving the United the 1-0 win over Denver University.

“It’s something to build off of,” said Sandoval, a Major League Soccer and USL veteran and the first player signed by the United. “We’ve still got a few weeks until the first game, and that’s when it’s really going to matter.”

The whole experience was kind of different, he said.

“It was a little surreal,” Sandoval said. “Walking up here after we got out of the vans and the guys on the team were giving me a hard time about being back here,” he said. “But it was cool. I was looking forward to being back here. This place is extremely special to me.”

It was just a friendly tune-up against the Pioneers, and both sides battled the wind, struggling to connect a string of passes.

NM United fans Janney Martinez and Greg Lucero brave the cold winds to watch Saturday’s exhibition. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Despite the uncomfortable conditions, a strong contingent of 1,215 announced fans turned out, bedecked in United’s black colors trimmed in yellow, with many sporting the flashy matching scarves.

“For me, it’s been a long time coming,” said Jeff Phillips, a one of the founders of the Sandianistas, an Albuquerque Sol fan club. “I moved here in ’98 and I’ve been waiting for this ever since. I’m pretty excited.”

The day left United officials beaming, as well.

“It was spectacular day for New Mexico and for everybody that was here,” said owner and president Peter Trevisani. “I don’t think anybody is going to forget being a part of history. It was a preseason friendly, but it’s still important for everybody that was here to be a part of this team from day one.”

Seeing the atmosphere supports the decision to bring United on line, he said.

“It was a toggle between mind-blowing and humbling,” Trevisani said. “A year ago today we were still in idea-nation mode. We knew we were moving forward, but the core was just a couple of us. And to see the reaction of the people and not just show up, but show up in Meow Wolf jerseys. And show up with the scarves and the hats. And the chants. I just cannot wait until March 9. I think this state is never going to be the same when the ball kicks forward in three weeks.”

United coach Troy Lesesne said the team met its goals.

“I’m happy with the effort,” he said. “I felt like everybody was very focused and ready to come out and compete. We’re early in the season, but at the same time, it’s the second week in. There’s a lot we can be happy with, but there’s a plenty we can work on going forward.”

NOTES: The United roster includes several other players with New Mexico ties. Justin Schmidt of Albuquerque and Josh Suggs of Las Cruces have both earning starting berths. Former Lobos Josh Goss and Chris Wehan played much of the second half.