Albuquerque Journal

Yearwood finds his niche as United defender

He got into soccer in North Carolina

- BY KEN SICKENGER

Austin Yearwood grew up in basketball country and did not escape unscathed.

New Mexico United’s standout defender played hoops as a youngster in Charlotte, North Carolina, and still loves and appreciate­s the sport. But Yearwood also realized early that soccer was a better fit for his physical skills, mindset and his longterm ambitions.

On the pitch, the 26-year-old defender is more than happy to do the dirty work necessary for a quality back line to succeed. He’s second on NMU in clearances and has a knack for breaking up scoring threats. Yearwood only recently scored the first goal of his 5½-year pro career and acknowledg­ed the irony that an offensive contributi­on helped earn him a spot on the USL Championsh­ip’s Team of the Week.

While Yearwood is content to play a less-glamorous position, he uses his platform as a profession­al soccer player to address social causes that are important to him. He is a member of the USL Black Players Associatio­n and has voiced his support for causes promoting equity and inclusiven­ess.

Yearwood earned a business degree from High Point University and hopes to someday parlay it into a soccer front-office role. He’s in no hurry to hang up the soccer cleats, however.

Basketball is pretty much king in North Carolina. How did you get into soccer?

I had an older sister (Nicole) who played soccer. I ended up going to a lot of her games and they looked like tons of fun. You could say she’s the reason I got into it.

Did you play other sports growing up?

(Smiles) I played a little bit of basketball. I played soccer and basketball until I got to the age where I had to choose one and I’m a lot better at soccer, so it was a pretty easy choice.

I do love basketball. If there’s no soccer on, I’m definitely watching the NBA. But soccer’s taken me so many places and I’ve met a lot of cool people. I would never trade it for anything.

You scored a fair number

of goals as a youngster. Talk about the transition to becoming a defender?

When I was about 12 I got shifted to outside back and that’s where I stayed throughout high school and college. The goals definitely decreased but the transition just stuck. I think I’ve always had a defender’s mindset really. I like to recover and take people down. It was kind of a natural move for me.

What made you want to sign with New Mexico United?

I came here on a leap of faith, I guess. I knew (NMU coach Troy Lesesne) pretty well because he was an assistant at Charlotte when I played and I trusted him. But I’ve always believed that no matter where you go, every place has something to offer. I was excited to come out to the Southwest and see what it was like. I don’t regret it one bit. I love being here. I’ve lived in Albuquerqu­e three years, that’s the second-longest time I’ve lived anywhere. It’s special to me now.

 ?? JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL ?? New Mexico United’s Austin Yearwood (3) shows love for the crowd with a heart sign after scoring against San Antonio on June 16.
JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL New Mexico United’s Austin Yearwood (3) shows love for the crowd with a heart sign after scoring against San Antonio on June 16.

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