Justin Portillo doesn’t mind admitting he knows more about New Mexico United than he does about Albuquerque.
He’ll soon learn more about both.
Portillo, a 29-year-old midfielder, signed with United for 2022, the club announced Saturday. He’s the first new addition of the offseason for NMU and a former teammate of new head coach Zach Prince with the USL Championship’s Charleston Battery.
Portillo also was a teammate of defender Kalen Ryden on Real Monarchs’ 2019 championship club and played for former NMU coach Troy Lesesne, an assistant coach during Portillo’s time in Charleston.
“I have good relationships with Troy and Zach,” Portillo said during a Zoom media conference Saturday. “I kept tabs on them and followed the team. When I knew my time in Salt Lake might be coming to an end, I felt like New Mexico could be a great fit. I’m very excited to have this opportunity.”
A New Orleans native, Portillo played college soccer at Coastal Carolina and has played professionally for MLS and USL Championship clubs since 2014. He was part of the Real Salt Lake organization from 2018-2021, making 11 MLS appearances, and 53 with the USLC’s Real Monarchs.
Oddly enough, Portillo has never played in Albuquerque.
“Every time the Monarchs played in Albuquerque (in 2019 and ’21), I was up with the big club or something,” Portillo said. “But my teammates all said that environment is the real deal, the fans are loud, respectful but in your face. I can’t wait to experience that.”
Portillo has 23 goals in his USLC career, but just five came with Real Monarchs — including one last season against United.
“Pretty lucky,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t score too often and when I do it’s usually pretty lucky.”
Portillo is better known as a possession midfielder who orchestrates things for his teammates. With 158 USL appearances under his belt, he’ll bring knowledge and experience to United’s locker room.
“I always thought of myself as one of the young guys,” Portillo said, “but now, at 29, I guess I’m really one of the veterans.”
Portillo said he’s remained close with Prince and Ryden over the years and those relationships helped in his decision to join United. He’s not expecting any preferential treatment from his former roommate, Prince.
“No, he told me he’s going to be hard on me,” Portillo said. “He’s a coach now. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”