New Mexico United's Sergio Rivas, who counts Albuquerque, N.M. as his hometown, celebrates his first goal for the club, which also stood as United's first in its return to Isotopes Park on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – You couldn’t have scripted it better.
Playing his first game for his hometown club in front of a passionate crowd of 8,647 fans back at Isotopes Park for the first time in 574 days, Sergio Rivas gave every New Mexico United fan the moment they had been waiting for since they last saw their side live in their home state.
Rivas’ opening goal set the stage for a 3-1 victory against Austin Bold FC on Saturday night that had been almost 19 months in the making.
“This was incredible for me,” Rivas told the Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger. “Truly a blessing. My home state, my city and to win my first home match, awesome!”
The sentiment rang true elsewhere in the locker room as well. While both Amando Moreno and Kalen Ryden spent the 2020 season with the club, Saturday was the first experience of what they’d anticipated when signing as free agents before spending the duration of their first season at United on the road. When Moreno capped the victory with the side’s third goal of the night, a well-taken header in the 66th minute, the party in the stands was truly on.
“Kalen and I had talked about the fans being a big part of our decisions to come here,” Moreno told Sickenger. “Tonight was something special anyway, and for me to get my first home goal made it that much better.”
Saturday night didn’t just mark the club’s homecoming. It also marked a continued early ascent into form after a lackluster display in United’s opener at Rio Grande Valley FC and a late letdown against rival El Paso Locomotive FC last weekend. On this occasion, New Mexico looked like the side we had anticipated in preseason, ready to kick on in its third campaign with a solid back line and exiting attack that had added new pieces this offseason.
New Mexico United's Amando Moreno salutes the crowd after scoring his first goal for the club at Isotopes Park on Saturday night in a 3-1 win against Austin Bold FC. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
But for an early lapse to start the second half that saw Austin grab an equalizer through Nick Hinds, the hosts appeared consistently in control, holding the bulk of possession while putting seven of their eight shots overall on target.
While the performance lived up to expectations, though, the moments before and after the game as fans reveled in their return to The Lab could provide the impetus New Mexico is looking for to find that next level.
“The thing that stood out to me was before the match,” Ryden told Sickenger. “[Josh Suggs] just reminded us all to not take this night for granted. We might never get an opportunity like this again, playing in front of these fans, so don’t take it for granted.”
New Mexico United's Sam Hamilton celebrates with the crowd after United marked its return to Isotopes Park after an absence of 574 days with a win on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United