New Mexico United (7-5-8) is at the mercy of the league and the Albuquerque Isotopes when it comes to scheduling, at least until they get a new stadium. Between Open Cup play and the Isotopes home schedule, chances to play at The Lab have been non-existent for United since May. During that time the club has seen eight matches on the road, multiple suspensions and nearly two months without a win.
Yes, United fell to ninth in the table, but all things considered it could have been much worse. The club came out of the trip without any injuries and the playoffs are still in sight.
From the fan perspective the skies aren’t nearly as gray as they were a week ago. After a strong showing against Sacramento Republic FC, with both Chris Wehand and Daniel Bruce finding the net, the club has vaulted into fifth in the table and a schedule that is loaded on the back end with matches at home.
United is finally back at home and the first challenger up is El Paso Locomotive FC (7-5-8). Both clubs find themselves sitting on 29 points, with United getting the tiebreaker of goal differential in their favor. Each are looking ahead to the remainder of their season wondering what they will need to do in order to secure a playoff spot for good. With only six points separating the clubs from fourth to thirteenth, each match is pivotal as the race for the playoffs continues.
Coming off of strong performances against Cardiff City FC and Sacramento, United’s confidence seems to have reemerged. Anyone taking a look at the level of play over the last couple weeks can see how much of a difference that confidence can make. Wehan had a tremendous night against Sacramento, playing in the role usually reserved for Kevaughn Frater. Without Frater the United attack has a very different feel. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by United supporters, and often leaves them wondering just how the match will play out when he isn’t in the team sheet. This most recent performance goes to show that United is figuring out how to play without Frater.
It also looks like United is figuring out how to bend but not break in the defensive third. During the second half against Sacramento, Cody Mizell and company were under near regular pressure as the hosts were pressing for the win. Even with Sacramento getting the better of the time of possession, they weren’t afforded any clean looks as they were unable to find a finisher. The steady improvement the club has shown throughout the season bodes well for the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Players to Watch
Kevaughn Frater – After being absent from the team sheet last week, Frater should return barring any sort of injury that we are not aware of. In the first matchup between the two clubs, a 2-2 draw, Frater saw limited match time but should be an impact player this week.
Justin Schmidt – Schmidt will likely draw the job of tracking Jerome Kiesewetter, who scored bagged a brace in the first meeting. Schmidt has been solid all season and continues to show why he’s been a regular in the team sheets every match.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (11)
Assists: Wehan (4)
Chances Created: Wehan (30)
El Paso has been struggling to nearly the same extent that United has been. Having been bitten by the injury bug Locomotive have looked rudderless, scoring only two goals in the previous six matches. Their only real scoring threat, Kiesewetter, has been out for the past five matches due to injury. Without him, El Paso hasn’t posed a real threat to any opposing defense.
Their last match against Real Monarchs SLC, did end in a draw, but there wasn’t much positive to take away from it. Now they have to come into The Lab, where United is near unstoppable. There is some hope for Locomotive as Kiesewetter, Yuma Monsalvez and Chiro N’Toko all set to return, the attack is looking a lot better for Locomotive fans.
Some questions still remain regarding the status of keeper Logan Ketterer and whether or not he’ll return. He was one of five regulars for El Paso that did not play against Real.
One player who did get some playing time was new signing, Sebastien Velasquez. After not playing for months as he transitioned from living in South Korea, he looked more than capable at times against Real and could be another possible scoring threat to complement Kiesewetter.
Players to Watch
Jerome Kiesewetter – After taking the league by storm, Kiesewetter is looking to return to match fitness after missing several weeks. As mentioned before, he did bag a brace the first time these two clubs met, so he isn’t a player to be overlooked, even with the injury.
Yuma – Also returning from injury, Yuma will be looking to make an impact in the defensive third. He was sent off in the first match and there may still be some bad blood between the two sides. Yuma could be a player that United can exploit throughout the match.
El Paso Locomotive FC Team Leaders
Goals: Kiesewetter (10)
Assists: Omar Salgado, Sebastian Contreras (4)
Chances Created: Contreras (35)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN3 beginning at 7:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, July 31. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. The match will also be broadcast live locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM and via The TEAM app.