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Alex Touche, one of Penn men's soccer senior defenders, signed on to his hometown's professional soccer team, New Mexico United, for the 2021 season. Credit: Joshua Berkowitz

One of Penn men’s soccer’s most reliable defenders will return home as both a Wharton graduate and a professional player on the roster of his hometown club.

Alex Touche, the Quakers' senior and New Mexico native, will make a homecoming on the pitch in Albuquerque, N.M. after signing with New Mexico United for the upcoming 2021 United Soccer League Championship season.

With the cancellation of his senior season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Touche had been considering several options for the next steps of his playing career.

“It kind of came down to whether I wanted to come back and play another year next fall, or if I could find a team to play for,” Touche said.

But his impressive resume had already gotten the attention of New Mexico United coach and technical director Troy Lesesne, with whom Touche was already familiar.

“I actually knew him because I interned at the club when it was just getting started up,” Touche said. “My brother and I — we were two of six people who listened to the coach’s interview … and we’ve been in contact ever since then.”

During his internship at the club with his twin brother, Charles, who plays soccer at Cornell, Touche had the opportunity to become involved with the club during its founding and early months in 2018.

“Then [Lesesne] called me this fall, and we kept in touch and talking about it, and then I finally signed the contract,” Touche said.

Touche had a remarkable three seasons of play during his career at Penn. With 14 clean sheets and eight goals as a defensive player, he earned All-Ivy honors in each season he played, while also being voted Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He started 43 out of 44 matches and was frequently the decisive anchor to several critical Quaker victories — which included key wins in the Ancient Eight.

Touche's effectiveness in scoring from set pieces and his offensive capabilities are evidence of his consistency and focus on both sides of the pitch. With him on the roster, New Mexico United has the opportunity to strengthen its defense as the group pursues its first league title.

But the transition from collegiate athletics to a professional league will be a sizable challenge. Touche acknowledged that he would have to adapt to the fast-paced energy and rugged physicality of the USL, especially as he faces teammates and opponents who have already been in the league for many seasons.

“Everything I had heard about USL is that it’s a really athletic league,” Touche said. “So I think that will be a bit of an adjustment, just adjusting to the quicker speed of play.”

In the face of these challenges, Touche has continued working hard to bring the same focus and rigor he presented at Penn to New Mexico United, and he is as eager to begin training and earning minutes of play to prove himself to the club and its supporters.

While New Mexico United is based in Albuquerque, Touche’s hometown, the club prides itself in representing all of New Mexico. With supporters across the entire state and — of course — in the local Albuquerque community, who parade toward Isotopes Park with their “march to the match," the young USL soccer club already has one of the most dependable bodies of supporters.

“I always knew that a [professional] soccer team would do really well here. And then it got started and the support from the community was incredible,” Touche said.

But what he will not be able to replace in Albuquerque will be the teammates and staff here at Penn, as Touche noted that he will miss them the most.

“The team culture, since [Penn] coach [Brian] Gill has come in especially, has been amazing,” Touche said. “All the guys are really close — both on the field and off the field. I’ll miss spending time with the guys, going on trips, playing games.”

Touche is confident in what men’s soccer will accomplish in the near future — just as many Penn supporters will be of his own professional career.

And despite the unexpected conclusion to his collegiate soccer career brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Touche is incredibly grateful for the opportunities he found at Penn as a student-athlete.

“Having the opportunity to play Division I soccer, and then also get your degree at a school like Penn is a dream,” Touche said.

His potency and confidence on the pitch reflects New Mexico United’s signature strength: the loud, vivid colors of their crest and club, and the formidable crowds in yellow and black in their stands that could rival Borussia Dortmund.

Touche will have both the support of Penn fans and supporters across New Mexico as he begins his professional soccer career in his home city of Albuquerque.