The Zach Prince era of New Mexico United soccer officially kicked off Monday morning.
Prince, 33, is taking over as the club’s head coach and technical director after spending three seasons as former coach Troy Lesesne’s first assistant. Step one was an introductory media conference alongside club president/CEO Peter Trevisani at United’s Team Store in Nob Hill.
Prince made it clear that he plans to strike a balance between Lesesne’s style and his own.
“I do feel it’s important to establish a style,” Prince said. “I’m lucky that Troy let me be involved in decisions. and we’ll keep a lot of things that are already in place. What I think will be different is the level of aggression. I want us to be really aggressive, move forward quickly and make opponents uncomfortable, especially when they come to Isotopes Park. We want it to be an incredibly difficult place to play.”
A South Carolina native, Prince played soccer at the College of Charleston and spent six seasons with the USL Championship’s Charleston Battery, winning a pair of league championships during that span. Prince said he turned down a contract extension after the 2016 season, opting to get into coaching instead.
“I’ve looked at things through the lens of a coach for a long time now,” Prince said. “The ambition to be a head coach has been there since day one. When this opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer.”
Prince said his tenure in Albuquerque has made him appreciate New Mexicans’ passion for their state and for a relatively new pro soccer franchise.
“What’s so incredible about our crowd is not the goal-scoring moments,” he said. “They’re up cheering when a guy runs back 45 yards for a great defensive play. They’re all in all the time, and no one’s leaving in the 89th minute. As a coach, that kind of passion makes you want to work that much harder.”
Trevisani said United’s coaching opening generated significant interest and a steady stream of messages from potential candidates.
“Soccer’s an international sport and there are so many people to look at,” Trevisani said. “We had those conversations but the big picture here made Zach an overwhelming favorite. He’s been here since the beginning, helped build our academy program, and he’s part of our culture on and off the field. Zach’s been a winner, too. He’s scored some big goals and has been involved in big games as a player and a coach.”
Prince planned to begin meeting with United’s returning players “immediately,” and said he’s been involved in discussions about bringing new players to New Mexico for the 2022 season. He doesn’t expect or want any sort of honeymoon period and believes NMU will be back in playoff contention next season.
“Not making the playoffs is a disappointment,” he said, “there’s no question about that. There’s so much work already going into building toward next season. I can’t say enough about having an opportunity to build toward a championship.”
From a tactical standpoint, Prince said he wants United to take more chances, even when it is playing with a lead.
“I feel like we need to push harder to expand leads,” he said, “and make it harder for opponents to score goals. Some of our defensive mistakes really set things up for our opponents. Defensively, we need to set a different standard.”
As for personal standards, Prince smiled when asked about adhering to Lesesne’s strict dress code. Lesesne may have been the only USL Championship coach to wear a suit on the sideline for every match.
Prince wore a blazer (no tie) to Monday’s media conference but made no promises about game attire.
“Troy did set a standard with the suit,” Prince said. “I haven’t really thought about that yet. Right now, I just want to get to work.”