The U.S. Open Cup starts in earnest Wednesday night for New Mexico United. On the heels of a hard-fought draw against El Paso Locomotive FC on Sunday, United continue their long road trip. For the second time on the season, United will find themselves taking on Phoenix Rising FC.
While not the first time that United have played on short rest, the Open Cup draw comes in the middle of an already planned three matches away from home. Adding a fourth match only causes additional issues such as managing rest, injuries, and practice time. Away match weeks are already shortened due to travel and to have a two-day turnaround can have some adverse effects on the players.
Fortunately for United, they’ve been solid on the road, posting a 1-1-4 record in league play. In the first match against Phoenix, the two sides played to a 3-3 draw. This familiarity between the clubs could be positive for New Mexico. In the first meeting, Santi Moar took advantage of the space given to him by Rising’s defense and bagged a brace.
Especially during this busy part of the season, rotating the lineup is going to be a priority. There were some changes during the Sunday match against El Paso with Kevaughn Frater coming off the bench in the second half to spell Devon Sandoval. In order to give United the best possible chance for success, there may be more changes coming this week. With players like Daniel Bruce and Kenny Akamatsu available, Coach Troy Lesesne has to feel confident in the club’s depth. United have shown that they can play from behind and do not shirk away from physical matchups.
United need to show a consistent level of energy against Phoenix. This wasn’t an issue in the first match, but they have struggled with it at times. A full 90 is needed from the entire club in order to displace the defending Western Conference champions and advance to the third round.
Players to Watch
Santi Moar – It’s been a few weeks since Santi found the back of the net. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been productive. He made significant contributions to the attack against San Antonio and hasn’t stopped his movement. He had a rough night against El Paso, getting a red card, but look for that to just fire Santi up.
Cody Mizell – Having seen a few different keepers throughout the league now, Cody is one of the best. His vision of the field and ability to react has been vital in every match this year. Without his reflexes, United could be at a completely different spot in the standings.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Moar, Kevaughn Frater (7)
Assists: Chris Wehan, Frater, Manny Padilla, Josh Suggs (3)
Saves: Mizell (36)
Phoenix could consider themselves lucky to have earned the draw in the first match. Phoenix was awarded and converted two penalties to keep the match within reach early on. Since then Rising FC has struggled to maintain their form. One bright spot for them has been the emergence of forward Adam Jahn.
For Phoenix to defeat New Mexico and advance they will have to build upon recent momentum. Their success of late has come from feeding the ball to Jahn and fellow forward Junior Flemmings. They will also need to find ways to close down on United, something they didn’t do well in the first match. Looking at the matches with El Paso and San Antonio there are things Phoenix could borrow and potentially cause United some issues.
Players to Watch
Adam Jahn – With three goals in the past two matches, Jahn has become a star for Phoenix. United will need to force him to make bad looks and close down to keep him under control.
Solomon Asante – 30. That’s the number of chances created by Asante so far this year. Always a danger on the ball, his vision is opening up the pitch for others like Jahn.
Phoenix Rising Team Leaders
Goals: Jahn (5)
Assists: Asante, Flemmings (4)
Saves: Zac Lubin (20)
U.S. Open Cup News
The possible third round pairings were announced today. If New Mexico United win on Wednesday, they will face the winner of the FC Denver and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC match.
The resulting 3rd round match would take place on May 29th. The downside for United, both of the Colorado-based clubs are listed as a possible host for the third round. This would mean a 5th road match in May.