Time is running out for New Mexico United (8-7-10) to secure a berth in the playoffs in their inaugural season. They’ve yet to find the same form that benefitted them at the beginning of the season and has slipped to 9th in the table as a result. Now winless in their last four matches, United needs to turn things around fast.
They may find a tough time of it on Sunday as they take on an Orange County SC (8-8-9) that seems to be finding its stride at the right time. Coming into the week it was shaping up to be a tough match, but things got harder for United after the suspension of Saalih Muhammad. After being sent off for offensive language against San Antonio, Muhammad was then handed a three-match suspension from the USL disciplinary committee. Even though they were a man down in that match, United did look dangerous throughout and gave some positive things to carry over to this week.
Seven of United’s remaining nine matches are at Isotopes Park, a place that they’ve played very well at this season. They’ll need to return to that form if they hope to make the playoffs.
To do so, United has two keys to breaking down the OCSC side. The first is being more composed in the final third. Far too often over the past month, United has missed out on goal scoring opportunities. For them to improve in this area they need to focus on two areas; maintaining possession in the goal area and putting shots on target. Against LA Galaxy II, United was rushing shots and wasn’t able to put together good looks and as a result, left many chances unconverted. Chris Wehan has been a contributor throughout the season, but in recent months has been a major factor. He’s been instrumental in creating space in the area and has open up opportunities for himself and others.
OCSC struggled early in the season defending the areas that Wehan likes to play in. The arrival of Michael Orozco has helped in that aspect and it will likely fall to him to try and stop the United attack before it even starts.
With Wehan working to create space for Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar, they have to be able to finish. While the club doesn’t have a selfish player on it, they need to work on being a little more selfish at times. That doesn’t mean take bad shots, but take the chances when they present themselves. The duo has shown how dangerous they are all season long, both from range and in close. Given a half-yard of space, either can score at will.
Stopping the duo will be the responsibility of Walker Hume. The 6’5″ center back has been a key for OCSC defensively this season. He’s a big body that takes up a lot of space in the area. Moar and Frater will need to find a way to work around him in they hope to find the score sheet this week.
New Mexico United Players to Watch
Chris Wehan – Wehan has been tremendous for United over the past month or two. His ability on and off the ball, as well as his knowledge of Troy Lesesne’s system, positions him as being a big factor in this match.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (14)
Chances Created: Wehan (44)
Like many clubs in USL, OCSC has struggled on the road. Having only managed a single win, this plays into United’s favor. Despite the poor form on the road, recent results show an improving Orange County club. They’ve looked more calculated and clinical, especially in their last two against Las Vegas and Real Monarchs.
Scoring six times while conceding only once in those two, the defense has shown marked improvement over the early season. After effectively dealing with the counter attacks from Las Vegas and withstanding extended spells of possession by Real Monarchs, they look capable of managing the match against United.
In what can only be described as a must-win match for both sides, the OCSC attack needs to get on the sheet early. Darwin Jones and Michael Seaton have been big factors in the success that OCSC has seen this season. With the two playing well up top, it has opened up opportunities for Jerry van Wolfgang and Aodhan Quinn to attack from outside the area.
With so many threats for United to deal with, Justin Schmidt and Josh Suggs will be called upon often to deal with them. Two of the most experienced players for United, the pair will need to find a way to effectively clear the ball and not allow OCSC second chance balls. The fewer clean looks that OCSC are allowed, the better United’s chances become for coming away from the match with three points.
OCSC Players to Watch
Walker Hume – Hume is a big body for OCSC coming out of the back. All season long United has struggled to deal with height advantages at both ends of the pitch. Hume is going to be a factor that United has to account for.
Orange County SC Team Leaders
Goals: Michael Seaton and Darwin Jones (Nine)
Chances Created: Jerry van Wolfgang (40)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 4:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Sunday, September 1. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. The match will also be broadcast live locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM and via The TEAM app and will also be available to watch on Estrella 7.2.