Time is running short for New Mexico United (10-9-10) if they hope to qualify for the playoffs or even a play-in position. After falling to Reno 1868 FC last weekend, they face an even tougher test with Phoenix Rising FC (22-3-5) coming to town.
Although both clubs are coming off of a loss entering this weekend, they’re coming into this match with different perspectives. For United, they need to show that they are a playoff-caliber club. Rising FC are just looking to continue their winning ways and clinch the inaugural Four Corners Cup. It would be easy to write off United in this match considering the way that Rising FC has been playing, reeling off 20 straight wins, but the short history between the two clubs suggests that the match could be much tighter than expected.
The two clubs have met twice already this season, once in regular-season play and again in the U.S. Open Cup. Between the two matches, the clubs have gone toe to toe, each match resulting in a draw. It is worth noting that these matches took place before the historic run by Rising FC. During their regular-season meeting, Rising FC had to come from behind three separate times to secure a draw in Phoenix. If not for two penalty conversions by Solomon Asante in that matchup, it could have been a different outcome.
Santi Moar notched a brace in that matchup but will miss this weekend due to yellow card accumulation. Fortunately for United, they still have Kevaughn Frater available and no longer in imminent danger of missing time due to yellow card accumulation. With Frater available, and the recent form of Devon Sandoval, United will have the chance to pressure the backline of Rising FC.
The most important factor in determining the outcome of the match will be United’s defense. At times this season, they’ve shown resilience against tougher opponents, but that hasn’t been the norm.
It all starts in the back with Justin Schmidt and Sam Hamilton. There has been a visible improvement in their level of play since the beginning of the season. The one thing that still gives them issues at times is being caught out of position, especially in transition. This system has the defenders play high, with the expectation that they can track back. How well the players respond in transition and keeping track of Asante will be essential to stopping Rising FC.
Players to Watch
Kevaughn Frater – in two matches with Rising FC this year Frater has scored once, and although he’s effectively out of the Golden Boot race, he remains United’s most potent threat in the final third. Sure to be a focal point of Rising FC’s defensive game plan, Frater needs to maintain his composure for him to have an impact on the outcome of the match.
Justin Schmidt – Schmidt is the last line of defense for United. He’s shown the ability to make tremendous plays, preventing opponents from getting attempts in on goal and the task of containing either Asante or Adam Jahn will fall to him. Justin can be one of the best defenders in the league, and he has an opportunity to showcase that this weekend.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (14)
Clearances: Schmidt (104)
For the first time since May 4th, Rising FC tasted defeat this past weekend. After months of winning, from the dramatic to the dominating, they lost in quite possibly the worst possible way. Trailing Fresno FC late, Golden Boot leader Asante was given two chances from the spot to pull out at least a draw. In the most unlikely of scenarios, both shots were saved, and Rising FC fell.
In the midst of their streak, Rising FC clinched first place and home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. They’ve faced adversity during the streak, but how will they respond after losing in this manner?
This Rising FC club could be one of the best that the USL has ever seen. They have the talent to bounce back against United quickly, but they’re also going up against a club that is very good at home. The Lab could be seeing a record crowd on Saturday night as the league leaders come to town, and United will be pulling from that energy.
Players to Watch
Solomon Asante – the Golden Boot leader is someone to watch. He creates mismatches in the back and can score in nearly any scenario. Containing him is job number one for United, but he won’t make it easy for them.
Joseph Farrell – a strong defender for Rising FC, he maintains his marks and makes it hard for opposing teams to get clean looks on goal. He will be looking to make life difficult for Sandoval and Frater as they hope to earn three points for United.
Phoenix Rising FC Team Leaders
Goals: Asante (22)
Clearances: Farrell (80)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, September 28. 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 via The TEAM App as well as Estrella TV 7.2.