In the first match of a three-week road trip, New Mexico United (1-0-3) found themselves dropping points after a stoppage-time goal from the home club, Orange County SC (0-1-2). For the third time in eight days, New Mexico United took to the pitch, this time against the defending Western Conference regular season champions. Fatigue looked to play a factor later in the match as the home side were able to wear down the United defense and come from behind to earn a hard-fought point.
With fatigue figuring into the team’s fitness, the lineup for United saw just two changes with Ryan Williams and Juan Pablo Guzman inserted into the starting eleven. Just before kickoff, defender Justin Schmidt was scratched due to an injury sustained during warm-ups and was replaced by Tommy Madden.
In a night that saw three players with either their first career starts or their professional debut, there was plenty of excitement to go around. As the match got underway, both sides started slowly, playing their way into the match when United struck first in the 14th minute with another goal from Santi Moar (4). Manny Padilla found his way down the right wing and sent a menacing cross towards the top of the 6-yard box and found Moar who lashed the header back across the box to the far post and into the net beyond the reach of Orange County debutante goalkeeper, Aaron Cervantes.
United would go on to extend their lead to 2 – 0 in the 33rd minute when an alert Kevaughn Frater intercepted a poor, backwards pass from OC defender Kevin Alston. Frater took possession of the ball and weaved his way around Cervantes to smash the ball into the open net.
Orange County was caught on their heels for the first half hour of the match before they started to find their bearings. The first real semblance of any danger from them in the attack didn’t appear until a corner kick resulted in multiple shots on goal, none of which found their mark. OC would have another flurry of attempts, but no goals, as time ran out on the first half.
Going into the break, New Mexico was in the driver’s seat easily controlling the time of possession and shots on goal. The defense was sound and only allowed six total shots by OC, none of which were on target. The improved attack of Orange County at the end of the half would be a sign of things to come.
The second half started out slow again for OC as they didn’t make another push until the 58th minute when their forward Harry Forrester began to whip in several dangerous crosses. One of these crosses found their way across the box to Giovanni Ramos Godoy who laid a header to the far-left post and the feed of Darwin James for the finish, bringing the home side back within one goal. The goal gave OC the momentum and United were unable to get it back.
For the remainder of the match, Orange County played in cross after cross, wearing down the already fatigued New Mexico squad. It looked as though United would squeak out the win as the match wound down, when two minutes into stoppage-time OC stuck again, this time off the head of former Houston Dynamo player Leonardo. Liam Trotter sent a high cross from near midfield and Leonardo was able to smash it across the front of the goal into the bottom left corner, bringing the home side level and salvaging a point.
Although New Mexico has remained undefeated through four matches, they have struggled in the second half of each match. Of the seven goals conceded by United this season, six of them have come in the second halves of the matches. United will need to show that they can close out matches as the season progresses. Any time a club can pick up even a point on the road it’s a good result, but when the chance arises to close them out and pick up a full three points, the club benefits that much more.
After tonight’s match, United currently sit 5th in the table with six points, only one off the top of the table.
Tommy Madden made his first career start tonight after filling in for Justin Schmidt, and New Mexico native Josh Goss made his professional debut.
Santi Moar moves into 2nd in the race for the USL Golden Boot with his fourth goal on the season.
United allowed 13 shots in the second half after only allowing 6 in the first.
United are off until March 29, when they will take on the Tacoma Defiance at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington.
Image credit: Orange County SC