Q&A with NM United’s Austin Yearwood

New Mexico United’s Austin Yearwood (3) shows love for the crowd with a heart sign after scoring against San Antonio on June 16. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Austin Yearwood grew up in basketball country and did not escape unscathed.

New Mexico United’s standout defender played hoops as a youngster in Charlotte, North Carolina, and still loves and appreciates the sport. But Yearwood also realized early that soccer was a better fit for his physical skills, mindset and his long-term ambitions.

On the pitch, the 26-year-old defender is more than happy to do the dirty work necessary for a quality back line to succeed. He’s second on NMU in clearances and has a knack for breaking up scoring threats. Yearwood only recently scored the first goal of his 5½-year pro career and acknowledged the irony that an offensive contribution helped earn him a spot on the USL Championship’s Team of the Week.

While Yearwood is content to play a less-glamorous position, he uses his platform as a professional soccer player to address social causes that are important to him. He is a member of the USL Black Players Association and has voiced his support for causes promoting equity and inclusiveness.

Yearwood earned a business degree from High Point University and hopes to someday parlay it into a soccer front-office role. He’s in no hurry to hang up the soccer cleats, however.

QUESTION: Basketball is pretty much king in North Carolina. How did you get into soccer?

ANSWER: I had an older sister (Nicole) who played soccer. I ended up going to a lot of her games and they looked like tons of fun. You could say she’s the reason I got into it.

Q: Did you play other sports growing up?

A: (Smiles) I played a little bit of basketball. I played soccer and basketball until I got to the age where I had to choose one and I’m a lot better at soccer, so it was a pretty easy choice.

I do love basketball. If there’s no soccer on, I’m definitely watching the NBA. But soccer’s taken me so many places and I’ve met a lot of cool people. I would never trade it for anything.

Q: You scored a fair number of goals as a youngster. Talk about the transition to becoming a defender?

A: When I was about 12 I got shifted to outside back and that’s where I stayed throughout high school and college. The goals definitely decreased but the transition just stuck. I think I’ve always had a defender’s mindset really. I like to recover and take people down. It was kind of a natural move for me.

Q: What made you want to sign with New Mexico United?

A: I came here on a leap of faith, I guess. I knew (NMU coach Troy Lesesne) pretty well because he was an assistant at Charlotte when I played and I trusted him. But I’ve always believed that no matter where you go, every place has something to offer. I was excited to come out to the Southwest and see what it was like. I don’t regret it one bit. I love being here. I’ve lived in Albuquerque three years, that’s the second-longest time I’ve lived anywhere. It’s special to me now.

Austin Yearwood at a glance

Favorite sports team: Charlotte Hornets

Favorite athlete: Thierry Henry but I have to give a shout out to LeBron James as well.

Non-sports hobbies: I love reading, hiking, spending time with my girlfriend and my dad.

Favorite TV show(s): I have to give a top three: The Office is a good one, Sense8 is phenomenal, and I really like Psych.

Motivational music: Before games I like a chill vibe, just one or two sounds. In the locker room it’s just whatever gets you pumped up, and Brucey (Daniel Bruce) is in charge of that.

Anything you’re scared of? I’m not too big on heights.

Red or Green Chile? Red.

Friday

Colorado Springs Switchbacks at NM United

7:30 p.m., 101.7 FM/ESPN+ (streaming)/Estrella TV

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