Desperate for a win, New Mexico United (9-8-10) headed into Oklahoma City looking to steal some points on the road from another playoff contender, OKC Energy FC (9-9-10).
Much has been made of the slow starts and the apparent lack of communication within the back line for United. Hoping to remedy those issues, Troy Lesesne sent out a team sheet with a bit of a different look from recent matches. With the absence of Saalih Muhammad still looming large, Sam Hamilton would see his first action since returning from an injury. It wouldn’t be in his usual role as a defender, but instead would be used as a midfielder.
In another change, Kevaughn Frater would come off the bench, allowing Chris Wehan to slide into the forward role. Wehan has had a lot of success playing in the number ten role over the past month, so it was no surprise to see him featuring up top again.
It didn’t take long for the new-look lineup to pay dividends.
United came out of the locker room with an energy that had been missing for some time. With crisp passing and Lesesne being extremely vocal on the sidelines, there was a different feel about the match. Early on, Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh would show a very high line, resulting in OKC forward Deshorn Brown being flagged for offside twice. Whatever communication issues there were against San Antonio, were quickly put aside and the duo would put together a solid outing.
At the other end of the pitch, things were going about as well as could be expected. In the 11th minute, Santi Moar would send in a cross from the left wing that caused confusion along the Energy FC back line. As the cross came in, David Estrada would head it back across the box to a waiting Devon Sandoval. With Atiba Harris losing track of him, Sandoval would put the ball into the right corner of the net with a bicycle kick.
Minutes later Moar would make a slicing run into the Energy FC box, only to be pulled down from behind by Mekeil Williams. The foul would earn Williams a yellow card and United a chance from the penalty spot. Sandoval would take the shot, going to the bottom right corner as Energy FC keeper Cody Laurendi went the opposite direction.
Up by two goals in under sixteen minutes, United was buzzing around the pitch and looking much like the club who started the season strong. The strong defensive efforts would allow Energy FC only a handful of opportunities and only one shot on target for the entire first half.
After halftime, United knew they needed to keep the pressure on the hosts. During the first meeting between the two clubs, United had taken an early lead, only to see Energy FC come back to earn a draw. Despite early pressure in the second half, Energy FC would pull one back against the run of play.
One of the few miscues on the night allowed Brown to find room to run on the left side of the box. As he was breaking towards the United goal, Christian Eissele would play a perfectly paced through ball into Brown’s feet. Taking the ball on his left foot, Brown would shoot across the face of the goal and find the bottom right corner to bring the hosts back within a goal.
Historically, this would be where United would falter and let the match get out of their control.
But not on this night.
In the 63rd Daniel Bruce would sub on for David Estrada, injecting new energy into the match for United. After a strong performance from Estrada, Bruce would take his place on the right wing and would make his presence felt only minutes later.
After Energy FC lost possession in the final third, United would work the ball around to the right side of the pitch to Bruce. Off of a give and go with Manny Padilla, Bruce would streak down the right side of the area drawing the attention of Callum Ross away from the middle of the area. That mistake by Ross would leave the area wide open for Wehan. An easy layoff from Bruce gave Wehan a chance from the center of the box that he wouldn’t miss. Going across the frame, Wehan would find the top left corner and restored the two-goal lead.
United proved to be too much for Energy FC at both ends of the pitch. Energy would only manage a total of four shots on target on the night, only truly testing Cody Mizell with one of them.
With the win, United jump to 9th in the table and back above the playoff line.
Player of the Match
Devon Sandoval – Sandoval made his way back onto the scoresheet for the first time since June 5th (also against OKC Energy). Devon was much better in possession than in recent performances and showed more composure in the final third.
Only seven matches remain in the regular season for United, and six of them are back at The Lab. Now that the Isotopes are done for the year, United get a true homestand starting this weekend. The next four matches will all be at the lab, starting with United playing host to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 14.
Photo courtesy USL Championship