United's playoff push to go on without Sandoval - Albuquerque Journal

United’s playoff push to go on without Sandoval

New Mexico United’s Devon Sandoval walks onto the field after his team defeated San Antonio FC 4-2 on Wednesday. Sandoval is out for the rest of the season due to heart-related issues. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

It’s not the type of finish Devon Sandoval envisioned.

Sandoval, an Albuquerque native and the recognized face of New Mexico United’s franchise, took to social media Friday to inform fans that he’ll miss the rest of the 2021 season, which continues with a big match Saturday at Rio Grande Valley.

The 30-year-old striker said a pair of blood clots were discovered in his aortic arteries late last week, leaving his playing future uncertain.

Sandoval did not play and was not listed on United’s 18-player roster for this week’s matches at San Diego and home against San Antonio. He said he began feeling exercise-related chest discomfort a few weeks ago. When the condition did not improve, he went in for testing last week.

“We got imaging done, we got bloodwork done and they said I needed to go to the (emergency room) Friday night,” Sandoval said during his two-minute video. “I spent the night in the hospital Friday. We did a (catheter) procedure and found a blood clot in my heart in an artery, two actually.”

Sandoval said doctors were able to “clean up” one of the clots and are treating the other with blood thinners. For the moment, his playing future is “up in the air.”

“I’m not totally sure what this means long term,” Sandoval said, “but whatever it means, whether I’m on the field or not, I’m not going to be far away. I’m going to be part of this New Mexico United family for a long time.”

The first player signed by United prior to its inaugural 2019 season, Sandoval previously starred at Eldorado High School and UNM. He’s played professionally since 2013.

A co-captain and fan favorite, Sandoval has scored 21 goals over three seasons with United, including five this year. NMU coach Troy Lesesne said he’s proud of Sandoval for prioritizing his health.

“He’s a guy who’ll fight through everything to keep playing,” Lesesne said. “For him to advocate for his own health and put his family first is huge. I’m really proud of him.”

United, which plays a key match at Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, will be without two of its top three goal scorers. Amando Moreno suffered a torn ACL during Sunday’s match at San Diego and will require season-ending surgery.

The injuries come at a difficult time for NMU (11-9-10), which is trying to secure a playoff spot with two regular-season matches remaining. United enters Saturday’s game in fourth place (the final playoff position) in the USL Championship’s Mountain Division with 43 points. Austin Bold (40 points, two matches remaining) and Rio Grande Valley (38 points, three matches left) remain in contention.

United can clinch a playoff spot with a win Saturday and would remain in fourth place with a draw. New Mexico has an outside chance to overtake San Antonio or Colorado Springs in the divisional race if it finishes with back-to-back wins.

A loss Saturday, however, would put Rio Grande Valley in control of its playoff path and leave United in danger of missing the postseason. Lesesne expects to get Rio Grande Valley’s best shot.

“We’ll have another playoff atmosphere,” he said. “Rio Grade Valley is a very tough opponent and they defend extremely well, but they also have to win. At some point they’ll have to come forward and go for it. Maybe that will create some opportunities for us.”

NMU is 1-1-1 against the Toros this season with the most-recent meeting ending in a 1-1 draw Oct. 9 in Albuquerque.


GAME DAY: New Mexico United at Rio Grande Valley FC

Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Edinburg, Texas, 101.7 FM/ESPN+ (streaming)

United (11-9-10): With forwards Devon Sandoval and Amando Moreno out, New Mexico’s attack will need contributions from other sources. Ilija Ilic, who scored two goals in NMU’s last two matches and moved into the starting 11 on Wednesday, is an obvious candidate. A bit more under the radar is midfielder Andrew Tinari, who picked up his second goal of the season in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over San Antonio FC. Tinari leads the team with seven assists (tied for eighth in the USL Championship) and is among United’s leaders with 30 chances created. Chris Wehan has climbed into the USLC’s top 10 with 12 goals overall, eight with NMU.

Rio Grande Valley (10-11-8): Forward Elvis Amoh will likely demand considerable attention from New Mexico’s defense Saturday night. The Toros have scored just two goals in three matches against United this season and Amoh converted both. He’s RGV’s leading scorer with 11 goals on the season and his 36 shots trail only Frank Lopez’s 37 for the club lead. Juan Azocar has netted six goals for Rio Grande Valley, and midfielder Rodrigo Lopez has been a key playmaker with six assists and 51 chances created. Goalkeeper Tyler Deric has five clean sheets and 45 saves but has generally been well protected by the Toros’ disciplined back line.

NOTEWORTHY: United has not traveled to Edinburg since its season-opener on May 1. Regulars Wehan, David Najem and Saalih Muhammad were not with the team at that point. … Ilic’s equalizing goal late in second-half stoppage time at San Diego was selected as the USLC’s Goal of the Week. Ilic had one goal in his first 18 appearances this season but has scored in his last two. … San Antonio had nine of the USLC-record 15 yellow cards issued in Wednesday’s 4-2 United win. SAFC leads the league with 86 this season. NMU ranks fourth with 80.

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