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NM United brings home Rivas for 2021 season

Sergio Rivas, shown in a publicity photo while he was playing for Reno 1868, is joining New Mexico United for the 2021 United Soccer League season. (Reno 1868 photo)

Troy Lesesne called it a Christmas present for New Mexico United fans. Sergio Rivas called it a dream come true.

United and Rivas jointly announced Thursday that the former Cibola High and New Mexico Rush star has signed to play for NMU in 2021. The 23-year-old midfielder spent the last two seasons with Reno 1868 FC of the USL Championship.

After earning Gatorade Player of the Year and Journal Metro-area Player of the Year honors as a senior at Cibola, Rivas played collegiately at Seattle University before joining the professional ranks. The first of Rivas’ four career goals with Reno came against New Mexico United in 2019, but he’s now looking forward to helping his hometown side succeed.

“Finally, after seven years, my family can see me play live again,” Rivas said in a Zoom media call. “To say I’m excited is an understatement. I can’t wait to experience playing in front of 15,000 United fans.”

Lesesne, United’s head coach, had previously teased Thursday’s “big signing” and wore his best holiday grin when discussing the team’s new addition.

“Sergio’s a complete fit,” Lesesne said. “He’ll add tremendously to our attack and he’s got versatility to his game. He’s also got a passion for serving his community, which is very important to us. I feel really good about bringing Sergio home.”

Rivas, who was born in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico, spent most of his childhood in Albuquerque. Much of that time was spent on the soccer pitch, including a lengthy tenure playing club soccer for New Mexico Rush.

“I had him from the U-11 age group to U-19,” said Justin Sells, technical director for New Mexico Rush. “I spent a lot of time with Sergio and he always enjoyed training and putting in the work. He was really talented, of course, and I always thought his game would translate to college and pro soccer. But he was willing to work for it.”

Rivas grabbed attention as a prolific scorer in high school and college. He led New Mexico’s Class 6A in scoring as a senior and racked up 18 goals and a school-record 27 assists during his career at Seattle.

Rivas was selected 26th overall in the 2019 MLS Superdraft by the San Jose Earthquakes and said he also talked with Lesesne about New Mexico United before ultimately signing that year with Reno. Both men said the timing for Rivas to join NMU is better now than it would have been in 2019.

“If I had come here my first year, being a hometown guy, there would have been a lot of responsibility,” Rivas said. “Reno was a good option for me. It allowed me to grow, and I feel more prepared to come back now.”

 

Rivas said he has watched all of United’s games and recently exchanged messages with Devon Sandoval, another hometown player on NMU’s roster.

“That part still feels surreal,” Rivas said. “I watched Devon Sandoval playing at UNM as a 14-year-old. I was in the stands cheering for him. Now I’ll be playing next to him. How cool is that?”

Rivas is the third addition to United’s roster this offseason, joining forward Ilija Ilic and midfielder Harry Swartz, who signed earlier this month. More additions are expected in the coming weeks.

With his team coming off a Western Conference Semifinals appearance, Lesesne believes the time for adding a dynamic player like Rivas is now. That Rivas is well-known around the state’s youth soccer community counts as a bonus.

“I feel like we’ve laid the foundation, and in year three we’re ready to compete for a championship,” Lesesne said. “Any time you can bring in a player like Sergio, who’s grown up here and is passionate about helping us bring a trophy to the community, that’s what we want to do.”

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