April 1, 2013
By Matt Ensor
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
Former University of New Mexico soccer standouts Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith have quickly made impacts for their MLS clubs less than three months after being drafted. The pair made history throughout their journeys from the MLS Combine, to the MLS SuperDraft, to signing professional contracts, to seeing the pitch for the MLS clubs.
They wowed scouts during the four-day pre-draft MLS Combine in early January as Blake Smith ranked among the top three prospects in every major speed and agility test. Flash forward one week and the duo were both selected in the MLS SuperDraft. Sandoval was selected 29th overall by Real Salt Lake, and Blake Smith became the highest-drafted Lobo ever when the Montreal Impact selected him with the eighth overall pick.
The two would go on to clear the next hurdle of their professional soccer careers: inking contracts with their clubs. What followed was their march to the pitch for playing time, which turned into more of a sprint than a march. The Lobo duo would both see their first official playing time within a matter of weeks.
It would be only fitting that Smith would make his official MLS debut on the same day that Sandoval made his first career start. Smith entered in the second half of the Montreal Impact's match at Sporting KC on Saturday, March 30 while Devon Sandoval got the start for Real Salt Lake versus the Seattle Sounders.
"I'm very excited for Blake and Devon. They're reaping the benefits of their hard work, attention to detail and patience. They are making the most of their opportunities as professional soccer players just as they did in the Lobo Soccer program. Most importantly, the two continue to be great role models and representatives of New Mexico Soccer while in the MLS," commented New Mexico Head Coach Jeremy Fishbein.
Sandoval was active at the center forward position for RLS while recording a pair of shots on goal and coming within inches of a first career goal. While he was unable to find the back of the net, the Albuquerque native received rave reviews from his coaches and the media.
"Sandoval gave us exactly what he has been giving us the past few months," RLS Head Coach Jason Kreis told MLSSoccer.com in his postgame press conference. "He just covers so much ground, works so hard and fights so hard for every single ball. ... He's basically showing the rest of the guys what Real Salt Lake means to him. What it means; this opportunity for him and what it means to get a chance to play professional soccer. I hope all the other guys take notice."
Michael Black of MLSSoccer.com wrote, "Sandoval did a remarkable job winning balls up top and holding things up, exactly like a prototypical No. 9 striker should do... Even without the goals, Sandoval was a clear net-positive for RSL. His willingness to do the dirty work, and his clever passing the final third opened up chances for just about every single one of his teammates."
Devon Sandoval and Blake Smith are already off and running in their MLS careers. The eyes of fan bases in New Mexico, Montreal, Salt Lake and the national soccer media are already on them. But if their path to professional soccer is any indication, Sandoval and Smith will continue to blaze the trails of their MLS careers on the pitch of a MLS stadium near you.
Quotes and information from Michael Black of MLSSoccer.com contributed to this release.