No matter how its season-opener shakes out, New Mexico United will get off to a slow start in the 2023 USL Championship points chase.
United, which visits Miami FC on Saturday, is the only USLC club that hasn’t played a match yet. It’s also the only club scheduled for just one game in March, while some (FC Tulsa for example) will play as many as five.
With that in mind, NMU coach Zach Prince and his players are chomping at the bit to get started.
“It feels like we’re already a week late,” defender Kalen Ryden said at this week’s media conference. “We’re ready to get out there and try to get three points.”
Prince smiled and shrugged when asked whether his team’s late opener is an advantage or a disadvantage. Miami played to a 1-1 draw with FC Tulsa last week – a chance to build cohesiveness but also to provide United with scouting material.
“It’s probably both,” Prince said. “We got a look at Miami and it’s a talented group, and they haven’t seen us, which is nice. We’re still sharpening our tools a bit but we’re definitely ready to go.”
With a revamped roster for 2023, United would like nothing better than to win in its only March appearance. NMU’s next chance to earn points will come April 1 at Oakland, the second of three straight road matches to open the campaign.
United veterans like Ryden are not fazed by the road stretch, despite the fact that it includes matches on both coasts.
“The road warrior term has been around here since 2020 when we played all our games on the road” because of state-related COVID restrictions, Ryden said. “We love playing at home, but we also kind of relish going on the road and trying to spoil the party.”
United may have a little extra incentive Saturday, playing a team that thoroughly spoiled an Isotopes Park get-together last season. Miami handed NMU a 3-0 defeat, its most one-sided defeat of 2022.
Both clubs have a lot of returning faces, but New Mexico also made a number of significant offseason roster tweaks. With additions like forwards Santi Moar, Greg Hurst, Josh Dolling and Alex Waggoner, Prince is hoping to create more quality scoring chances.
Returning forward Amando Moreno, who missed much of 2022 rehabbing from knee surgery, is excited about his team’s increased firepower.
“My goal is always to score or assist in every game,” Moreno said. “But this year I’m really trying to do everything the team needs, whether that’s orchestrating things for my teammates or finishing. What can I do to help us win a championship? That’s my mindset.”
United, which had one of the older USLC rosters last season, replaced a number of veterans with younger players during the offseason. That includes the 19-year-old Waggoner, one of three players who signed academy contracts and are eligible to play with the first team this season.
Prince believes the youth infusion has given returning players new perspective.
“Watching some of the older players take leadership roles has been fun for me,” he said. “It’s good to see them challenge the young guys the right way and make sure they’re keeping our standards.”
United’s veteran presence will also be key as the club opens with three straight road games.
“We don’t control the schedule,” Prince said, “so we just look at the start of the season as a challenge. I think this group has the right mentality to handle it.”