At a time when New Mexico United (10-10-12) need to be at their best, they haven’t been playing up to their full potential. Now winless in their last four matches, the club is on the verge of missing the playoffs in their inaugural season. While most supporters could stomach a draw with the conference-leading Phoenix Rising FC, the matches since have been harder to endure.
In both of those matches, United fell behind in the first half and had to try and claw their way back. Against Tulsa, Head Coach Troy Lesesne threw everything he could at them, including subbing on three attacking players. Even with the changes and having an extra player on the pitch, nothing United tried worked.
United will have to find a way to get over the hump this week while on short rest. The club still has a match in hand over a few of the clubs ahead of them, and United must win to take advantage of it. Both opponents this week are below them in the standings, but that hasn’t meant much during this stretch of matches.
United will first play host to Tacoma Defiance (7-19-6) on Wednesday night. Earlier in the season, United defeated Tacoma 2-1 in Tacoma and are looking to do the same in Albuquerque. For United, this week is all about playing up to their potential and doing whatever it takes to secure a spot in the playoffs.
Lesesne hasn’t deviated much in terms of formation since the beginning of the season and will likely send out a very similar team sheet on Wednesday. While much of the focus has been on Kevaughn Frater and Devon Sandoval this season, United needs others to step up to help ease the burden on the forwards. Early in the season, United made their mark on the league by exhibiting a lot of movement, especially off the ball. The movement and passing in opponents’ halves would consistently pull defenders out of position, opening up lanes for the forwards to make runs.
While United hasn’t stopped playing this way, it hasn’t been as effective since midseason. It could just be that other clubs have adapted, but it could also be that United is too unselfish with the ball. It’s clear that the club plays for each other, trying to get each other involved, but at times this results in too many touches.
Manny Padilla and Chris Wehan could both have a significant impact on the match Wednesday night. With Wehan likely playing in the ten role again, he could see a lot of touches and in turn, will be instrumental in setting up Sandoval or Frater. Padilla will also be in for a busy night. His play from the right side has been excellent over the past month, and if he can put some crosses into the box, United could make it a very long night for Tacoma.
Players to Watch
Chris Wehan – Involved with 14 goals this season (8 goals, 6 assists), Wehan has more than shown that he can be a dangerous player. Against a club like Tacoma, Wehan can take advantage of the middle of the pitch and make runs forcing Tacoma into poor positions.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Chances Created: Wehan (56)
Goals: Frater (14)
Facing Tacoma at this point in the season could be just what United needs to pick up some momentum. Their recent form, however, suggests that Tacoma isn’t going quietly into the night. Undefeated in the previous three matches, including a shocking win over Fresno FC, Tacoma has shown that they are capable of pulling the unexpected out of their hat.
Despite splitting time with parent club Seattle Sounders, Justin Dhillon has come on strong for Tacoma this season. After coming up through the LA Galaxy Academy, Dhillon came over to Tacoma at the beginning of this season. With 12 goals in 24 appearances, Dhillon will be a factor in this match. Although he can score from anywhere, Dhillon is at his most effective inside the box and will likely draw the attention of Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh.
Much like United, Tacoma is susceptible to balls in the box and have not played well on the road this season. Their lone road victory came against Fresno FC, and they hope to build on that when they come to Albuquerque.
Players to Watch
Shandon Hopeau – The 20-year-old has seen a lot of the pitch this season and has been able to find the back of the net five times. Spelling Dhillon, he should see opportunities to get in on goal and will likely get a number of looks
Tacoma Defiance Team Leaders
Chances Created: Jesse Daley (23)
Goals: Dhillon (12)
The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, October 16. 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 as well as The TEAM app.
Photo courtesy New Mexico United