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How Cristian Nava sent New Mexico to a fifth consecutive win

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/16/22, 10:13AM EDT

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18-year-old’s impact in Oakland turned tide for visitors, showed potential, rising confidence

When Cristian Nava entered Wednesday night’s game in the 56th minute, New Mexico United needed a spark.

Trailing by a goal, and with little to show in the attacking third, the side’s winning streak was under threat on the road against an Oakland Roots SC side that was undefeated in its last seven contests.

Within 11 minutes, the 18-year-old Albuquerque native and United Academy product had turned the game on its head, and no-one watching was surprised.

Just two minutes after coming on, Nava received possession in his own half, turned into space and delivered a perfectly weighted 40-yard pass with the outside of his right foot into the right channel. One first-time cross from Sergio Rivas and finish from Neco Brett for his fifth goal of the season and United was back on level terms.

Nine minutes later, it was Navas’ turn to deliver the final ball. Cycling back from the right corner as New Mexico reset its attacking pressure, he received a pass in from the flank by Rashid Tetteh, quickly shifted past his marker and delivered a picture-perfect cross for Chris Wehan to head home for his second assist of the season.

Through Navas’ assertiveness and the tactical adjustment by Head Coach Zach Prince that provided a reset for United’s play in the attacking third, New Mexico headed home with a fifth consecutive victory, and third place in the USL Championship’s Western Conference.

“Bringing in Cristian and moving Sergio to the front allowed us to be more unpredictable and create more opportunities,” Prince told the Albuquerque Journal’s Ken Sickenger. “And Cristian, to his credit, comes in and plays fearless. He makes things happen. I’m glad we have him.”

Coming a day after the potential for upward mobility from the USL Championship was again highlighted with the transfer of Orange County SC standout Kobi Henry to Ligue 1 club Stade de Reims, Navas’ performance was a reminder that when it comes to talented youngsters, the Championship is only scratching the surface.

It was also an indicator of Navas’ own individual progression this season, his first full campaign as a professional. The Golden Ball winner at the USL Academy Playoffs last December after turning pro with New Mexico 10 months ago – United’s first Academy graduate to do so – impressed in preseason, building anticipation for what could be this season.

As it turns out, even prodigies need time.

While he was an unused substitute in New Mexico’s opening three games of the season, however, Nava has come into his own the further the season has progressed. His first goal and assist in the professional ranks came in United’s victory against Phoenix Rising FC last month, but this outing appeared to show the rising level of confidence and level of play many were hoping to see this year.

What does that mean moving forward? That Nava will at minimum be a player that should have everyone’s attention for the rest of this season.

Beyond that? He’s likely among that next wave of players that could soon be ready for the next step, whether domestically or overseas.

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