Anyone familiar with March Madness knows the phrase ‘Survive and Advance.’ Along with doing just that, New Mexico United are teaching supporters a new one, #Cupset.
Since their debut in the largest national soccer tournament sanctioned by USSF, United have done nothing but be a part of thrilling matches. In their first two matches, United came from behind against both Phoenix Rising FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to earn a chance to face an MLS club for the first time in club history.
Looking to avenge their fourth-round exit in the 2018 Open Cup, Colorado Rapids came into the match saying all the right things. They put it out that they were taking the Cup seriously, yet their team sheet said otherwise. With eight changes from their previous team sheet, including the absence of U.S. International stars Tim Howard and Kei Kamara, it appeared that they were just trying to get their second team some minutes. In contrast to the Rapids team sheet, United put out arguably their strongest eleven, considering Josh Suggs is still out with an injury.
If United had any concerns about facing an MLS club for the first time, it didn’t show. The visitors grabbed control of the match from the whistle, and Daniel Bruce put a shot on goal within minutes. Although Bruce didn’t find the net, his shot set up a corner for United. In the sequence that followed, Santi Moar would nod a header to Devon Sandoval, who found home and put United ahead early.
Colorado wouldn’t get a good look on goal until near the half-hour mark. Cole Bassett would find a yard of space inside the goal area, but his shot went just over the bar and out of play. Until that attempt, the United defense had not allowed Rapids any clear looks.
Diego Rubio would manage to pull the hosts level in the 35th. Off of a set play, Lalas Abubakar would put a cross into the box which Rubio would head past the near post.
Since the beginning of the match, Bruce had been dueling with Rapids defender Keegan Rosenberry, and tempers would start to boil over after the goal. During a period of twenty minutes, starting before the equalizer, the referee would show the yellow card six times. Each club would receive three cautions, and it became clear that these two clubs, even though they just met, weren’t liking each other.
Colorado would maintain their momentum of the goal into the second half and would go ahead in the 46th. After a poor back pass from Sam Hamilton, Nicolás Mezquida would grab possession near the spot and found the back of the net.
The Rapids’ chances of winning took a hit in the 72nd as Axel Sjöberg would pick up his second yellow card of the match after taking down Kevaughn Frater, who was on a breakaway. Rapids interim head coach Conor Casey would attempt to counteract the sending off by bringing on U.S. international player Kellyn Acosta and Tommy Smith in short order. Now with a man advantage, United would begin to impose their will on the match.
United would continue to press and try to pull back that goal for the remainder of the half, but couldn’t quite find that final touch. As time was winding down on regulation, the fourth official indicated that there would be five minutes of stoppage.
Taking the match to the death, United’s Sandoval would put the ball into the path of none other than Frater who fired from 20 yards out and past the diving Rapids keeper, Clint Irwin. Frater had done it again, pulling United level and sending the match to extra time.
In an unusual strategy from United coach Troy Lesesne, he had made only one substitution during regular time and would eventually only use one more of the four total allowed. Colorado, on the other hand, used all four of theirs before extra time began. For Lesesne, the strategy paid off, leaving the club’s top scorers on the pitch for a full 120 minutes.
Extra time came and went with both clubs having chances to break the deadlock, but neither were able to. Colorado played a highly defensive look, often keeping nine players behind the ball to try and prevent United from getting any good looks. United had to feel confident heading to penalties, a position they had already been in once in The Cup.
Acosta and Frater each converted their attempts in the first round. Rapids midfielder Danny Wilson and Moar would go second for their clubs. Wilson’s shot was saved by Cody Mizell, while Moar would put United ahead 2-1.
In the third round, both Rosenberry and Sandoval would convert, bringing the penalties to 3-2 for United. Needing a conversion to stay alive, Sam Nicholson would take for Colorado, but his shot sailed over the bar, opening the door for Chris Wehan to finish the match. With a rocket to the top left corner, Wehan closed the door on Colorado.
United found themselves with yet another historic accomplishment for the expansion club and celebrated with the hundreds of supporters that had made the trip to Colorado.
Player of the Match
Kevaughn Frater – with a last gasp goal at the end of regulation, his 12th across all competitions, Frater helped to propel United to the next round. Frater put in a full 120 minutes and has become Mr. Clutch for United.
Through three Open Cup matches, United has 360 minutes, the equivalent of four full matches, of open play under their belts.
All three of their Open Cup matches have gone to extra time, and two of those have gone to penalties.
Eleven yellows and one red card were issued throughout the match.
Round of 16
With the win, New Mexico United have earned a spot in the Round of 16. This morning the pairings were set for the Round of 16. United were placed in the midwest pod with FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo and Minnesota United. The corresponding draw has United traveling to take on FC Dallas between June 18 and June 23.
United return to league play on Saturday night, June 15 as they continue their road trip at Las Vegas Lights FC. The match will take place at Cashman Field with kickoff scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MT.
Photo courtesy @opencup