New Mexico United’s roster added a large helping of local flavor Friday as three players with strong state soccer ties received academy contracts with the USL Championship club.
Alex Waggoner, Miles Merritt and Andres Robles, all of whom played for United’s academy team last season, will have an opportunity to train and play with NMU’s first team in 2023. Academy contracts will not impact their NCAA or academy eligibility.
Waggoner, Merritt and Robles have impressive credentials. All three won high school state championships in New Mexico, and they helped NMU to a fifth-place finish at the recent USL Academy Playoff Tournament in Florida.
Waggoner, a forward, has turned heads with his goal-scoring prowess. He was named Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year for 2021-22 after leading Santa Fe High to a state championship. Waggoner then earned Golden Boot honors at the academy tournament, amassing six goals and three assists in his team’s four matches.
United coach Zach Prince also noted Waggoner’s defensive ability.
“He is committed to being a leader on both sides of the ball with his willingness to press defensively,” Prince said. “He has an opportunity to make a massive step in his game this year.”
Merritt, a midfielder and former all-state player who won a state title at Sandia Prep, was named to the USL Academy Playoff all-tournament team. He joined NMU’s academy club in August 2021.
“Miles Merritt has shown the most improvement over the last 12 to 16 months in our academy program,” Prince said. “His comfort level on the ball has remained consistent and is still improving while he has taken the biggest step defensively.”
Robles, a midfielder and former state champion with Albuquerque High, was among United’s first academy signings in February 2021 and earned a call-up to play for its U-23 team last summer. He received an academy contract in 2021 and trained with the first team but has not yet appeared in a match for NMU’s top squad.
“He has all the tools to be a top midfielder.” Prince said. “Helping him have a similar personality with the first team that he has with the Academy is key for Andres.”
United’s academy program is beginning to pay dividends for the club. Forward Cristian Nava was the first player to rise through the ranks and appear in a first-team match after receiving an academy contract. Nava later signed a full professional contract and will return for his second full season with United in 2023.