New Mexico United truly are road warriors. Wednesday night will mark United’s 23rd match of the year across all competitions, and of those 23 this will be the 16th away from The Lab. Compared to the rest of the USL and MLS, United have the distinction of playing the most away matches of any club.
Although their road form in USL league play has not been stellar, a 3-3-5 record, their run in the Open Cup has been impressive. Without having a facility that is USOC approved for the tournament, United have made the best of their situation. With all of the extra travel their four wins on the road, two against MLS clubs, United is the Cinderella of the tournament.
Widely considered to be the underdog in three of the previous matches, United has exceeded expectations. The match against Minnesota United FC is yet another chance for the club to make an impression on not only the USL but the landscape of U.S. Soccer. They’ve overcome extra time or penalties in three of the prior rounds, and now they look to advance with the absence of leading scorer Kevaughn Frater.
Due to U.S. Open Cup discipline guidelines, Frater is suspended for the match in Minnesota after picking up his third yellow card against FC Dallas. His absence may worry some supporters, but Head Coach Troy Lesesne and the rest of the club have faith that others will step up and fill his shoes for the night.
Santi Moar is just one of the players on the roster that could pick up where Frater left off in the Cup. Despite not scoring since May 25th, Moar is still one of the most dangerous options for Lesesne. The return of Josh Suggs will be a considerable benefit for Moar. Early in the season, the duo formed quite a bond of the left side of the pitch. Their combined knowledge of Lesesne’s system, and football, in general, was a large part of United’s early season success.
Suggs, who was out with an injury, returns at a pivotal point in the season for United. As the longest road trip of the year begins to wind down, United are looking forward to a back half of the schedule full of matches at home. Suggs’ importance to the club’s form can’t be understated. That’s not to take anything away from the job that’s been done by Justin Schmidt and Sam Hamilton. Suggs’ ability to create space with his movements going forward, and his veteran leadership is something that can’t be replaced. He’s a physical defender who can make overlapping runs to open things up for the forwards.
His leadership is going to be key as United look to deal with the Minnesota duo of Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez. With a combined 11 goals in MLS play, the pair are a threat every time down the pitch, and their pace sets them apart from other clubs United has seen. Despite the goals total, the two have a weakness that United can take advantage of; neither are very accurate. With only 28 of 83 shots on target (33.7%), their finishing is suspect at times when they aren’t able to get good looks.
Players to Watch
Santi Moar – Santi hasn’t scored since May. The return of Josh Suggs is going to benefit Santi more than any other player on the pitch. Look for the duo to create more spaces for each other to work in, and it could cause issues for the Minnesota right-back.
Cody Mizell – Cody’s performances in two matches against MLS clubs this year have been outstanding. Three goals allowed, eleven saves in regulation, and two saved penalties. That’s Cody’s line against those two clubs, and it’s among the best in the tournament.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (11)
Shots: Moar (40)
Saves: Mizell (53)
Minnesota United FC have the momentum right now winning their last five in all competitions. The recent run has been powered by 20 goals, while only allowing 7. Before that though, they had lost three consecutive matches, including suffering clean sheets in losses to Colorado Rapids and Atlanta United. Although this season has gone a long way to turning around the club after poor showings in their first two seasons, they still have their issues on the pitch at times.
Even with the success of late, there may be a downside to it. Similar to what New Mexico went through in June, Minnesota is in a stretch now of multiple matches in a short time span. The match on Wednesday will be their fourth within 12 days. Due to the short rest, they may run out a different team than what was seen in the roster against the Montreal Impact. Neither Colorado Rapids or FC Dallas fielded a full first team against New Mexico, and Minnesota may do the same.
With players like Quintero and Mason Toye, Minnesota is still a very dangerous club. Toye has been taking the pitch by storm in his limited appearances this year, and the responsibility of covering him will most likely fall to Suggs. Both Quintero and Toye are dangerous running at defenses and pulling them out of position. It will take a full squad effort to contain them.
Ike Opara is a name that should be familiar to many football fans. The U.S. International has helped solidify Minnesota’s defense, and his experience has improved all of the players around him. He’s been one of the best defenders in all of MLS over the past several years and was named the MLS Defender of the Year and to the MLS Best XI in 2017. Typically lining up as a right center-back, he will most likely draw Moar as his man to mark.
Players to Watch
Mason Toye – Toye has been impressive in his short time with Minnesota United. He is constantly improving his play, and he is already deadly at finding space in the final third. His finishing has been excellent so far as well, converting three of his five shots on the season.
Ike Opara – As mentioned above, Opara will likely line up on the right and take on Moar. This will be a battle to watch throughout the match. Will the veteran get the better of Moar, or will El Matador show the old guy what’s what?
Minnesota United FC Team Leaders
Goals: Quintero (6)
Shots: Quintero (46)
Saves: Vito Mannone (60)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 6:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, July 6. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. ESPN+ is viewable online via the ESPN app or across a variety of mobile and connected living room devices, including Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and more. The match will also be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team and live on The Team app.