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Spaniard Moar has been an early spark for NM United

Santi Moar works with possession of the ball during NM United’s match on opening night at Isotopes Park. Moar and United return to action Sunday night in El Paso. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Santi Moar had just returned from a long hike near a volcano in Monteverde. He was on a solo adventure in Costa Rica which also included zip lining, biking, rafting, and an inauspicious start at surfing.

New Mexico United technical director Troy Lesesne had populated his call log, eager to have Moar, 25, join the expansion team.

“‘Annoyed’ or ‘pestered’ is probably the word I would use,” Lesesne said.

When he returned from the hike, Moar returned the call and committed to joining United for its inaugural season. The first-place side in the United Soccer League Championship Western Division, United (4-1-5) looks to continue its dazzling start today at El Paso (3-2-3).

“Troy was showing an extra interest that gave me confidence if I go there, he’s going to believe in my ability,” Moar said. “Sometimes as a player, that’s’ all you need. You need to be comfortable in the culture of the team.”

For Lesesne, signing Moar was the culmination of a couple years of courtship, starting during Lesesne’s time as an assistant with the Charlotte Independence.

Listed at 5 feet, 9 inches and 165 pounds by United, Moar played for the Premier Development League (now USL League 2) Charlotte Eagles in 2016. The Eagles lost 2-0 to the Independence in the second round of the US Open Cup. That season, the Independence rostered current NMU players Cody Mizell, Austin Yearwood and David Estrada.

Lesesne approached Moar after the game. He complimented Moar and told him he’d keep an eye on him.

“When he came in and trained with us, not only was he able to keep up the pace with our training, but he was raising the level,” Lesesne said. “It was easy to see how talented he was.”

Moar’s training habits, competitive nature, and consistency were traits that Lesesne knew would be a fit on the wing for United.

“I knew in our system just to try to isolate him wide because he’s going to beat the first defender,” Lesesne said. “He was the kind of player who could change the fate of a first-year franchise, and he’s done that so far.”

Moar scored seven goals in as many games to start the season and was named USL player of the month in March. He’s tied with teammate Kevaughn Frater for second in the Championship in goals with seven.

“I’m enjoying everything he’s doing on the field,” said Frater. “He’s a very awesome human being off the field.”

Moar also has two assists and could have more with some better finishing. But it’s not just the goals; he’s completing 78.9 percent of his passes and is successful on 66.7 percent of his tackles.

“I’m confident, I’m comfortable, I have the support from my teammates and my coaching staff,” Moar said. “I really hope we can hope be over there fighting for the Golden Boot (for top scorer); that would mean the team is doing very good at the end of the season.”

His first year in the USL in 2017, Moar finished tied for second for rookie of the year vote to his current United teammate (and former UNM Lobo) Chris Wehan. The 2019 scoring surge is noticeable considering he tallied six in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons with the Bethlehem Steel.

“I think the guy can honestly go to a higher level. He needs to challenge himself, be a little bit better in combination play,” Lesesne said. “When the second defender is coming around, can he find a target to play around and bounce off of? From a defensive standpoint, his pressure high up the field is unbelievable. I’m just challenging him to be in the right position when the ball is on the opposite side of the field.”

From there to here

The Spaniard’s path to New Mexico was tumultuous. Moar’s first soccer touches came on a dimly lit futsal (a variant of association football played mainly indoors) court in his native Ordes, Spain.

While in high school, his brother-in-law spotted an article in the local newspaper about a three-day tryout in front of American college coaches. So he flew from an airport near his hometown to Madrid for the weekend.

One of the few college coaches in attendance was Bob Reassou from Division III Pfeiffer University in tiny Misenheimer, N.C., population 700. Reassou offered Moar and a few other players from the camp some scholarship money.

“I didn’t know where North Carolina was,” Moar said. “I knew it could be a good opportunity and it sure was.”

He was a week removed from knee surgery for a torn meniscus when he rolled off the plane in a wheelchair his first time in America in 2014. He had injured his right knee volunteering in a defensive drill during a coaching clinic, his first soccer injury.

But the recovery was further delayed after developing an infection. He had surgery just 10 days after coming to the U.S. Moar needed $3,000-4,000 for the surgery.

“We had difficult conversations with my family,” Moar said. “I wasn’t sure if the experience was going to be worth it.”

He redshirted that first year and is quick to credit the coaching and training staffs at Pfieffer for diligent care and attention to his recovery.

“After that rehab, I got much better preparing myself before a game, making sure my body was always healthy,” Moar said. “I think it helped me to be a professional in the following years.”

Moar made a strong impression on Tony Faticoni, the current Pfieffer head coach who was an assistant starting in 2015.

“The first time I met him was out on the field, right away he was one of the special players,” Faticoni said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player that cut the way he does. To me, he’s so different the way he’s able to stop on a dime.”

The Falcons won the national title in 2015. Moar is third all-time in assists in Pfieffer men’s soccer history and tied for seventh with his 47 points in a season (2016).

“Being at a small school right now, he’s one of those guys we constantly use as what could happen,” Faticoni said. “We’re super excited that he’s doing what he’s doing. We’re just happy to have been part of his progress.”

Moar was picked 82nd overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by the Philadelphia Union. NMU teammate Sam Hamilton went 15th to Colorado and Justin Schmidt 35th to Real Salt Lake. Moar was assigned to the Union’s USL Bethlehem affiliate.

“I definitely had an affinity towards players that have his skill set,” Lesesne said. “From a wide player, I think that those players are few and far between now. Santi’s really confident in taking risks.”

What’s next

A promotion to MLS likely wouldn’t be possible for Moar until 2020 and will get sorted out in the offseason. An MLS team would need to use an International Roster Slot for Moar, and there are 192 available in MLS out of 720 total roster spots.

“He’s the type of player that changes the game,” Faticoni said. “He can play on either side of the field. He’s elusive with his pace. I believe he should be an MLS player.”

But for now, he’s enjoying immersing himself in Albuquerque. Unlike his previous stops, Moar has had more opportunities to engage with the community directly. He’s eager to participate in events at area schools or shake hands at a car dealership.

“I haven’t made any sales yet,” Moar said. “It’s just when it comes to kids, the look in their eyes when you see the passion. the excitement in their eyes about meeting a professional player.”

Moar is still hiking too, having already visited the Sandias, Acoma Pueblo, White Sands and Tent Rocks. Teammates Toni Soler, Schmidt, and Juan Guzman are typical companions on those ventures. They’re also his companions in mildly competitive tennis matches.

“When I first signed, I had no idea how passionate these people are for fĂștbol,” Moar said. “I just decided to come here, and all that I’m getting, it’s a gift for me.”

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