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New Mexico's back line was largely responsible for the United's seven shutouts during the season. A key member of the defense is Kalen Ryden, right, who is contesting a header in October's playoff win at San Antonio. New Mexico United recently announced the formation of an academy club team for players 16 to 19.

Courtesy photo

The state's best high school soccer players got a huge boost Oct. 30 when the New Mexico United announced the formation of an academy club team for players ages 16 to 19.

The team is expected to begin competing in 2021, facing other teams in the Southwest Division of the United Soccer League's academy training program. Five states are represented in the Southwest. Along with New Mexico, there are clubs from Colorado, California, Arizona and Texas.

An academy club team is the latest piece for a United franchise that now includes an under-23 semipro developmental team and a high-performance training program, all of which complement the parent club, one of the top teams at the USL's championship flight.

Dates for tryouts - or "viewing sessions" as the team is calling them - will be announced in January pending health guidelines associated with COVID-19. United assistant coach Zach Prince said previous viewing sessions have given the parent club an opportunity to scout 600 to 700 high school students.

"Right now in our high performance program, we have 55 kids," Prince said, referring to a group of players ages 10 to 18.

Of those, about 15 are ages 16 to 19.

The United's academy team will pull players from the high school and club ranks throughout New Mexico. Scouts will become fixtures at matches, Prince said, as the team looks from one end of the state to the other for elite players willing to join its program. He said any player invited to join the club will not have to pay any cost - the enterprise is funded by the United.

"Our mission is to give every New Mexican youth soccer player the opportunity to play at the highest levels of youth soccer in America at no cost," Prince said. "That's incredibly, incredibly important for us."

An important caveat: Per the rules of the New Mexico Activities Association, players cannot participate for their high school team at the same time as the United's feeder program.

"That's a decision that those players will have to make," Prince said.

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