Justin Portillo is happy to admit that he knows more about New Mexico United than he does about Albuquerque.
He will soon find out more about both.
Portillo, a 29-year-old midfielder, has signed with United for 2022, the club announced on Saturday. He is NMU’s first off-season signing and a former teammate of new head coach Zach Prince at the Charleston Battery of the USL Championship.
Portillo was also a teammate of defenseman Kalen Ryden at the 2019 Real Monarchs championship club, playing for former NMU coach Troy Lesesne, an assistant coach during Portillo’s time in Charleston.
Justin Portillo has been signed by New Mexico United to play for the team in the 2022 season. (Courtesy New Mexico United)
“I have good relationships with Troy and Zach,” Portillo said during a Zoom media conference on Saturday. “I kept an eye on them and followed the team. When I knew my time in Salt Lake was about to end, I felt that New Mexico might fit in well. I am very happy about this opportunity. “
Originally from New Orleans, Portillo played college soccer in Coastal Carolina and has played professionally for MLS and USL championship clubs since 2014. He was part of the Real Salt Lake organization from 2018-2021, making 11 MLS appearances and 53 at Real. of the USLC monarch.
Strangely enough, Portillo has never played in Albuquerque.
“Every time the Monarchs played in Albuquerque (2019 and ’21), I’ve been with the big club or something,” said Portillo. “But my teammates all said that the environment is the real thing, the fans are loud, respectful, but in your face. I can’t wait to experience that. “
Portillo has scored 23 goals in his USLC career but only five came with Real Monarchs – including one against United last season.
“Pretty much luck,” he said with a smile. “I don’t meet too often and when I do it’s usually pretty happy.”
Portillo is better known as a possession midfielder who orchestrates things for his teammates. With 158 USL appearances, he will bring knowledge and experience to United’s dressing room.
“I’ve always thought of myself as one of the young people,” said Portillo, “but now, at 29, I really am one of the veterans.”
Portillo said he had stayed close to Prince and Ryden over the years, and those relationships helped in his decision to join United. He does not expect any preferential treatment from his former roommate, Prince.
“No, he told me he was going to be tough on me,” Portillo said. “He’s a trainer now. I wouldn’t have it any other way. “