It wouldn’t be accurate to call New Mexico United an all-new club in 2023.
After all, there figure to be at least 14 players back from last season when second-year coach Zach Prince finalizes his roster over the next two weeks. Several of those players — Daniel Bruce, Josh Suggs, Austin Yearwood Sam Hamilton, for example — have been around since season one (2019).
But NMU will be a different club — a younger, taller and trimmed-down version — when the 2023 regular season kicks off March 18 at Miami FC.
Prince and his team held their media day Thursday at the First Financial Mesa del Sol Training Center with a few personnel decisions still to be made. United plays a final preseason match Saturday at Colorado Springs and hosts its Black and Yellow Game on March 10 before the marathon 34-game USL Championship season gets underway.
Prince was quick to point out that NMU has “a long way to go” before opening day, but United will start the season with a smaller roster (roughly 23 players down from 26) and high expectations.
“I feel like we hit our stride in the last five games last year,” said Prince.
“We kind of found our identity,” he added. “It took a while to get there and we went through some lows but we came up (two points) short of hosting a playoff game. That, and losing to Sacramento in the playoffs, fuels us. We took a big step last year and we’re looking to take another one.”
United finished 13-9-12 in 2022, going unbeaten (2-0-3) in its last five matches, a stretch that included a road draw with eventual league champion San Antonio FC.
That New Mexico squad featured one of the league’s oldest rosters and was noticeably lacking in front-line height. Neither description fits this season.
NMU got younger with some offseason signings, including academy contracts inked by Alex Waggoner, Andres Robles and Miles Merritt.
They join former academy product Cristian Nava, who made an impact during his first full professional season in 2022.
Waggoner has already turned heads and figures to get his share of opportunities before starting his collegiate career at Michigan in the fall.
“Alex is a first-team player right now,” Prince said. “He’s made a big impression on the coaching staff.”
As for height, United added the likes of 6-foot-2 Josh Dolling, 6-1 Greg Hurst and 6-4 Timothie Zali during the offseason, which only figures to help on set pieces and crosses into the penalty area.
“Height and athleticism are a big part of this league ,” Prince said, “and we want to be more dangerous on set pieces and things like that.”
The philosophy also applies to attacking off the dribble, another area where Prince anticipates improvement. NMU re-acquired forward Santi Moar from Phoenix Rising to join a more experienced Nava and Amando Moreno, who missed much of 2022 while rehabbing from knee surgery.
“Last season ended too quick for me,” Moreno said. “This year feels completely different. I’m 100% and we’ve added some good new players to our attack. I’m looking to do more creating — and hopefully finishing, too.”
United struggled to score at times last season, finishing tied for 15th in the USLC with 49 goals. Hopes for a more explosive attack have been bolstered by scoring 14 goals in its first five preseason outings.
Preseason results, of course, mean little. But Prince and his players remain optimistic about where United could finish in 2023.
“I think we’ve added some good guys, and we have the right people back,” defender Kalen Ryden said. “On day one I felt like we were already ahead of where we were last season. I’m excited to see what this team can do.”
Season opener: New Mexico United at Miami FC, 5 p.m., 101.7 FM