New Mexico United’s roster will have a different look in 2023 — decidedly taller and more European.
Both descriptions were met Monday when United announced the signing of defender Timothie Zali, a 6-foot-5 defender from Switzerland who immediately takes over as the tallest member of coach Zach Prince’s squad.
A 24-year-old Swiss-American, Zali spent the last five seasons in the Swiss Challenge League and he will make his United States debut next season. Zali who speaks English as a second language (French is primary), held his own through Monday’s introductory Zoom media conference.
“This is a new challenge for me,” Zali said. “I don’t know enough about New Mexico. I don’t know anyone who has been to New Mexico, but I know it is beautiful country. I will try to make it popular here in Switzerland.”
Zali, whose father is American, admits he only recently began to consider playing in the United States. He had American scholarship offers but passed them up to focus on eventually playing in the European Championship League.
After five seasons in the Swiss Challenge League, Zali was ready to pursue a different path.
“There are only 10 teams in the league and we would play the same team like 12 times,” Zali said. “I wanted a new challenge and a chance to show what I can do. New Mexico has a good team, a great fan base and it felt like my best option. I love to play football in front of a big crowd — I love it.”
Zali became United’s third new addition this offseason, joing tall European forwards Chris Hurst (6-1 from Scotland) and Josh Dolling (6-2 from England). It’s a change for NMU, which often featured a shorter lineup than its opponents in 2022.
Zali listed an ability to score on headers among his attributes, but said he was most attracted to New Mexico’s penchant for high-pressure defense.
“I’m actually really fast,” Zali said, “and the style New Mexico plays is good for me. A lot of pressure on defense, which I like, and I can read the game tactically and help the team stay organized.”
Prince believes Zali’s size and skill set will be a good fit for United.
“Timothie has a unique athleticism that will translate to success in our league,” Prince said. “He is dominant in aerial duels, and has the ability to control individual defending situations behind the defensive line.”
Zali said he has visited the United States on several occasions but his experiences have been limited to major cities.
He’s excited to see more of the country and to test himself against USL Championship competition.
“I feel like this is my chance,” he said. “Football’s getting more exposure in the U.S. now — the World Cup is there in 2026 — so this feels like the right time.”
Zali concluded his interview by smiling and conceding that he’s not yet satisfied with his mastery of English.
“I will improve,” he said.