Many people in Albuquerque know New Mexico United is the new professional soccer team, but they may not be aware four former University of New Mexico men's soccer players help make up the roster — possibly some of the last Lobos to have that chance.
Devon Sandoval, a native of Albuquerque, found his way back home after stints with Real Salt Lake, the San Francisco Deltas and Atlanta United 2. And he wasted no time notching an unassisted goal in New Mexico United's exhibition against Denver University on Saturday — the lone goal in a friendly that gave the city its first look at the new club.
He said it was a bit surreal being back in Albuquerque, playing at the UNM Soccer Complex where he spent so much of his time in college again and seeing so many familiar faces.
"It's been pretty wild, actually," Sandoval said. "It's been good to be back. I'm excited and my family's excited and we're happy to be back, for sure."
The 6-1 forward found himself with a chance after a press forced the Denver keeper to make a mistake and the ball wound up in front of Sandoval. He said he made a move and put himself in position to capitalize on the error and was able to beat the keeper for the eventual game-winner.
Sandoval played for UNM from 2010-12 and while fellow former Lobo Chris Wehan joined the men's soccer team in 2012, the two never played in college together since Wehan red-shirted his freshman year. But the two have maintained a relationship and now get to continue a special connection of being former Lobos on a professional squad.
Wehan joined the professional soccer ranks as a member of Reno 1868 in 2017 and was called up to Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes last year as well, appearing in six matches. According to the MLS Soccer website, Wehan led the USL in assists and was named USL Rookie of the Year for his efforts in 2017.
The former Lobo also said he was excited and encouraged by Saturday's 1-0 exhibition win, saying it was great but also acknowledging it was also a little bit weird being back on UNM's campus.
Wehan said he was pleased with the way the team played and, while the goal came off the opponents' inability to clear the ball, he said it definitely didn't come easy.
"It wasn't that it was given to (Sandoval) on a silver platter," Wehan said. "He still had to beat the keeper and he had a really tight angle. It was an impressive finish."
Both players said building relationships with teammates and engaging the community are immediate goals that they hope will help New Mexico United be successful on and off the pitch.
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Sandoval said it is fun to be on a brand new team and Wehan echoed those sentiments saying it is pretty much a clean slate. There isn't any film or tendencies to break down from last season and the players have a chance to create their own identities, both individually and as a team.
They also said they are looking forward to getting tested on a three-match road exhibition slate that takes the team on the road to Arizona.
"It's a good opportunity to see how we match up against other competition in the league and teams we are going to be playing here pretty shortly," Wehan said.
Josh Goss is a third former Lobo player, who played from 2013-16, and recently signed with NM United. While Mike Graczyk rounds out the quartet of UNM connections as the team's first associate coach and director of goalkeepers.
Although the University of New Mexico men's soccer team is slated to be cut later this year, the legacy of the program will continue on for now with those former Lobos carrying the mantle into their New Mexico United careers.
New Mexico United will begin its season with a March 9 fixture agains the Fresno Football Club at Isotopes Park. The match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.