New Mexico United has enjoyed passionate support since its inaugural season in 2019 and is now at a moment of opportunity as it looks for the third Head Coach in its history. | Photo courtesy Brandino / New Mexico United
New Mexico United’s postgame press conference on Saturday night felt a little bit like the end of an era.
The announcement of the departure of Head Coach Zach Prince – one of the key figures in building the club on the field since his arrival alongside predecessor Troy Lesesne in 2018, first as an assistant and over the past 18 months as the main man – for a new opportunity left most in a reflective mood.
“You know, Zach came in here five years ago as an assistant coach and helped build the roster,” said United Owner and President Peter Trevisani. “A lot of people know him more in the last year-and-a-half as he’s been Head Coach, but he really has come in every day, worked hard, believed it, believed in the club and you can just tell from his emotion that this is more than just a job. This is something that he's been invested in with his family.”
As the door closes on Prince’s time with a club, though, a window of opportunity is opening for New Mexico.
It’s one the club needs to take as big a swing as possible at.
There’s no question the club achieved plenty in Prince’s tenure. He took a side that had missed the postseason in 2021 and set new highs in regular season wins and points and its highest finish in the Western Conference standings in a full campaign. The side showed flashes of what it could be capable of, but never quite seemed in a place to find the breakthrough and become a team that could challenge the sides at the top of the Western Conference consistently.
Departing New Mexico United Head Coach Zach Prince returned the team to the postseason in 2022 with single-season bests in wins and points. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
In games against the four teams that finished above New Mexico last season it went 1-3-4. United then bowed out of the playoffs at the hands of Sacramento Republic FC in a 2-0 loss that reflected the nature of the game.
This season, that pattern has continued. When United has hit its stride – usually against lesser opponents – it looks the part of a contender, but there have been other games – the ones that arguably show where a team truly stands, like Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Derby del Camino Real rival El Paso Locomotive FC – where United hasn’t measured up.
New El Paso Locomotive FC Head Coach Brian Clarhaut is among the recent examples of the impact a coach can have on a club's fortunes in his first campaign in the Borderplex. | Photo courtesy Brandino / New Mexico United
That makes the decision Trevisani and newly appointed Sporting Director Itamar Keinan have to make a crucial one. It needs to show an ambition to the players and fanbase that the club is ready to build on the strong platform Prince helped create and move to the level its Western Conference rivals currently occupy.
It’s the sort of move that we’ve seen regularly in the Championship. Just this season there have been the examples of Locomotive FC’s success under new Head Coach Brian Clarhaut and the Charleston Battery’s turnaround under Ben Pirmann’s stewardship. San Antonio FC’s appointment of Alen Marcina has made a substantial difference for a team that had never previously shown that level of consistency in its history.
The right coach at the right moment can make a big difference to a team’s fortunes.
Whoever gets that opportunity will inherit a squad that Prince believes can be successful.
“There’s more steps to take and more room to grow, and whoever ends up taking over, they have a very special group,” said Prince. “There's so much love in that locker room, and so, so much hard work in that locker room. This group of players exemplifies our ethos. It's exactly what our ethos is. And that was definitely the hardest decision – 100 percent it’s those guys in there, that staff in there. I see the work that they put in every day and man, that made this decision incredibly, incredibly hard.”
The opportunity is there.
Now New Mexico’s leadership needs to grasp it and set a course to become a legitimate title contender.