It’s safe to say that the first-ever International Friendly for New Mexico United was a success. Playing at home, or close to it, United welcomed the Welsh club Cardiff City FC, and the two sides played in front of a sell-out crowd at the UNM Soccer Complex.
The visiting Bluebirds had previously defeated San Antonio FC 1-0 during the first stop of their North American preseason tour and came into Albuquerque looking to build upon that result. They were greeted by a United side that had struggled of late and were looking to get back on track. Given the nature of the friendly, where each side is given unlimited subs, Head Coach Troy Lesesne put out a lineup to start the match that most would never have expected to see.
The changed lineup paid dividends for United. After a corner kick in the 2nd minute, Ken Akamatsu would put the ball into the top left corner, bending it around a defender and keeper Neil Etheridge to stake United to an early 1-0 lead over Cardiff. With a renewed energy, United and Cardiff would go blow for blow throughout the first half.
The Bluebirds would have several chances, including one from Bobby de Cordova-Reid. His slashing shot back across the goal was pushed wide after a sensational effort from United keeper Ben Beaury, who was seeing his first action of the season.
The score line would remain 1-0 until just after the hour mark. Will Vaulks would draw a foul, from Albuquerque native Josh Goss, just outside the top of the box. From around 21 yards, Bluebirds striker Omar Bogle would bend a shot into the top right corner, well out of reach of Beaury. The 1-1 scoreline would hold until the final whistle, as neither side could find the net against strong defensive efforts.
For New Mexico United, the match at home was a much-needed reprieve from their 8-match long road trip. The club seemed to be energized by the crowd, and it showed on the field. The defensive effort by the club, end to end, kept the Bluebirds attack in check at times.
It also provided an opportunity for players like Goss, Beaury, and Soler to get some match time. With strong performances by many United players, perhaps it gives Lesesne a reason to experiment with the lineup.
The home crowd was also given a surprise, as United introduced them to Gabe Legendre. Legendre, who is the first player signed by the club as part of their High Performance Program, made his debut late in the second half. The youngster impressed in limited time on the pitch and is sure to be a part of the future for United.
Player of the Match
Ken Akamatsu – Ken finally opened his account for United with his first professional goal. He had a tremendous work rate and helped create chances for United throughout the first half.
New Mexico United have one more match before their road trip is officially over. They will play Sacramento Republic FC on July 24. Kickoff for the match is at 9 p.m. (Mountain), and the match will be streamed live on ESPN+.
For Cardiff City FC, their North American tour continues with one final stop in Edmonton, Canada. As their preseason winds down, they will face off against Real Valladolid.