After a brief home-stand, New Mexico United are headed back on the road. Their first stop on the nearly two-month road trip is Colorado. This will be United’s third trip to the Centennial State in the past month, and for the first time they will face off against the Colorado Rapids.
The meeting between the two clubs takes place in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. To get to this point, United had to overcome both Phoenix Rising and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. For the Rapids, their path has been much easier. Per the USOC guidelines, MLS clubs automatically enter in the fourth round. With fewer matches under their belt, Colorado may be the better rested of the two sides.
United head into the Wednesday night match on the heels of a less than successful set of matches at The Lab. Instead of having momentum, United are looking to rebound and against an MLS club. This past week proved to be difficult, as United drew with OKC Energy and lost to Sacramento Republic FC. Despite the lackluster results, United still sit on top of the Western Conference.
In an attempt to rest some of his starters ahead of the Open Cup, Head Coach and Technical Director Troy Lesesne made seven changes between the OKC and Sacramento matches. United’s roster is filled with players who are capable of making the Team of the Week any time they are called upon, but the changes on Saturday didn’t pan out.
How United respond to the adversity will be something to watch for in the matches coming up this week.
“If you can’t get up for that game, there’s something wrong with you,” said Lesesne when asked how the club gets fired up for the Open Cup match. “I don’t think it’s going to take much for them to rebound. If you can’t respond, then we’ve got bigger problems on the year.” He would go on to talk about how the club’s form has been this year, “we haven’t faced these types of results, where we got a draw and then lost. We usually rebound very quickly.”
It’s not often that a club from the USL gets a chance to face off against big brother. MLS has had the edge in Open Cup play for several years, but that doesn’t phase Lesesne.
“It’s going to be a difficult opponent in the Open Cup, but we’re gonna go for it on Wednesday, and I think the players will respond very well,” said Lesesne.
One big question coming into the match is how Colorado will line up. Many MLS clubs don’t take their fourth-round matchups seriously and don’t typically play their usual starting eleven. If Colorado follows this pattern, it may open up the match and give United a better chance to advance.
United’s Keys to Success
* Finding space for Moar and Frater – the two biggest scoring threats for United have been quiet of late. United need to find ways to get them more involved and good looks in front of goal.
* Containing Kei Kamara – if he’s in the team sheet, Kamara is going to command a lot of attention from United. The leading goal scorer for Colorado with eight on the season, he’s converting on average once every six shots.
* Deal with Kellyn Acosta – the U.S. International star has been inconsistent at times and is the strongest between the boxes. If United can play around Acosta, his defensive abilities will be negated.
* Maintain energy level – United have had issues maintaining their flow as matches get stopped more frequently. The repeated stops and starts have to be taken for what they are, and United need to use them to their advantage.
Players to Watch
Juan Guzman – On Saturday, United struggled to control the midfield without Guzman on the pitch. Once he entered the match, United showed a lot more energy and controlled the pace of play in the second half. Look for Guzman to be back in the teamsheet and better play from United’s midfield.
Kevaughn Frater – Frater has had a tough couple weeks. Goalless in his past two matches and picking up a couple more yellow cards has to be wearing on him. If Frater can channel the frustration he’s been experiencing of late; he could put the ball past Howard.
New Mexico Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (10)
Assists: Frater, Suggs, Chris Wehan, Manny Padilla (3)
Saves: Mizell (46)
While United experienced unprecedented early season success, Colorado started their season on the wrong foot. Opening up the campaign with a record of 0-7-2, they took the drastic step of firing the coach. Since the change was made, Colorado has gone 4-2-1 and have picked up 13 points in their last five matches.
While many thought that a matchup with Colorado would be the best possible scenario for United to advance, their recent form suggests that they are figuring out just how good they are. With recent wins over some of the MLS leaders, Colorado has every reason to be confident.
U.S. international players Kellyn Acosta and Tim Howard have led the charge for the Rapids defensive efforts. During the past five matches, they’ve only allowed four goals.
At the same time, Colorado has improved their goal differential from -14 to -9. This due to a much improved offensive effort including the play of former University Of Denver forward, and former teammate of Kenny Akamatsu, Andre Shinyashiki. In their last five matches, Shinyashiki has scored twice and grabbed an assist.
Players to Watch
Andre Shinyashiki – after a 28 goal performance in his senior year at the University of Denver, he’s following that up with four goals and one assist so far in his rookie season. If he’s on the pitch at the same time as Kenny Akamatsu, it could be a fun battle between the two.
Tim Howard – Howard is arguably the greatest U.S. international, but age is catching up to him. The aptly titled Secretary of Defense is now 40 and has already allowed 33 goals on the season. By comparison, he allowed 58 all of last season and 39 in 2017. In his farewell tour to U.S. Soccer, anything could happen.
Colorado Rapids Team Leaders
Goals: Kei Kamara (8)
Assists: Jack Price (4)
Saves: Tim Howard (41)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, June 12. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. ESPN+ is viewable online via the ESPN app or across a variety of mobile and connected living room devices, including Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and more.
photo is courtesy of Michael Rinconn