From Amando Moreno’s perspective, Sunday is a perfect time for a comeback.
New Mexico United’s high-energy striker has spent the first 20 matches of 2022 sidelined as he recovered/rehabbed from ACL surgery. Moreno injured his knee late last season during an Oct. 17 game at San Diego.
The road back has been difficult. Moreno pushed himself in recovery and had hoped to return by late June, but United coach Zach Prince and his staff preached patience. After several weeks of full-intensity workouts, Moreno declared himself ready for action.
“I am mentally and physically ready,” Moreno said during United’s media availability this week. “It was a test for me getting to this point, but I finally made it. The team’s playing well and I’m excited.”
Moreno’s return comes just in time for a trip home. New Mexico visits New York Red Bulls II (Moreno’s former club) on Sunday at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, New Jersey (Moreno’s home state).
Moreno signed his first pro contract with the Red Bulls in 2013 and made two appearances with the MLS club before playing four seasons in Mexico. He returned in 2018 and played for the USL Championship Red Bulls II, scoring 10 goals and helping the club reach the Eastern Conference finals.
Sunday will be his first experience as an opposing player, and Moreno is looking forward to it.
“My dad bought a bunch of tickets,” Moreno said. “I’m excited to go back where I grew up, but I’m really just excited to be able to play again. I wake up in the mornings with a big smile now.”
Prince credited Moreno’s work ethic in coming back from his injury – even if he had to occasionally temper his 26-year-old forward’s enthusiasm.
“It’s been a long road for him,” Prince said. “Amando was really impatient at times because he wanted to be back, but we had to balance that with making sure he was fully fit and fully healthy. Now he’s no different than anyone else on the club, trying to earn his spot every week. It’s great to have him back.”
As usual, Prince gave no hints about his lineup plans for Sunday. He’ll have plenty of options as United (9-3-8) takes on struggling New York (2-15-3), which has won just once in its last 18 matches.
It’s the beginning of a grueling week for New Mexico, which comes home to face Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday and hosts The Miami FC on Saturday. But while Prince and his staff mull over personnel decisions and try to keep players fresh, United’s regulars are focused on leaving New Jersey with three points.
United earned one point last weekend when Neco Brett’s stoppage-time goal salvaged a 2-2 draw in Detroit. NMU captain Josh Suggs came away with mixed emotions.
“That atmosphere was great,” he said. “With the fans singing and chanting, it was good to get a point on the road. But this year’s team is different. Usually when you come back to tie late, guys feel pretty good about it. Guys in our locker room were disappointed because we expected to get a win. That’s our expectation for Sunday, too – really for every match.”
RE-UNITED: NMU had no extensive plans outside of soccer for its New York-area visit, Prince said.
Saturday night figured to include watching a friendly pitting local MLS side New York City FC against FC Barcelona – on television. Former United coach Troy Lesesne is an assistant with NYCFC this season, but attending the match was not an option.
“It’s sold out,” Prince said, “but we’ll get Troy in to see the guys at some point during the trip. We’re all looking forward to seeing him.”
Prince served as Lesesne’s assistant coach with NMU from 2019-21.
GAME DAY: New MEXICO UNITED at NY RED BULLS II