The Golden Ball winner at the 2021 USL Academy Playoffs, New Mexico United's Cristian Nava scored his first senior goal in the USL Championship on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
Tuesday night’s clash between New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising FC had long been decided when the moment arrived with 12 minutes to go, but that couldn’t take the shine off a landmark moment for United and Academy product Cristian Nava.
Making his third consecutive start, and fourth overall this season, the 18-year-old who late last year claimed the Golden Ball at the 2021 USL Academy Playoffs saw a space in behind the Rising FC defense created by Devon Sandoval’s hold-up play, broke toward it pointing for teammate Jerome Kiesewetter, who delivered an ideally weighted pass for Nava to guide a first-time finish past the advancing goalkeeper and record his first goal in the professional ranks.
Turning toward the supporters in the main stand at the University of New Mexico Soccer Complex while being congratulated by teammates, Nava appeared to be in exactly the space he was supposed to be.
“I'm very happy, especially to do it here, at home in front of the fans,” Nava said after the game. “Having so many people here to support us felt so great. It feels amazing. I'm very excited.”
Nava’s celebration – as had been the case for others in United’s squad as the side rolled past a depleted Rising FC squad – saw him pay tribute to Robert “Stone” Chouinard, with the players wearing “RC” armbands in tribute to the longtime supporter who recently passed away.
New Mexico United's Cristian Nava holds up an "RC" armband following his first professional goal in tribute to United supporter Robert Chouinard, who recently passed away. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
As he continues to make his way through a first full professional season, Nava’s tally on Tuesday night could be the first of many in his career.