Now, more than ever, New Mexico United (10-10-13) has to win.
After once again being unable to overcome a club below them in the table, United’s hopes of reaching the playoffs took a significant blow. Instead of controlling their own destiny, United also needs some luck.
After falling behind in the first half for the third straight week, this time to Tacoma Defiance (7-19-7), United could only manage to earn a single point after scoring once in 36 shots. The night started on a positive note for United, with Kevaughn Frater putting shot just off target in the opening seconds of the match. He would follow that up with another attempt only minutes later, but it was saved by Tacoma keeper, Trey Muse.
Over the past few weeks, United had faced other clubs that had been eliminated from playoff contention and knew that the sides could still be dangerous. Tacoma came into the match on a run of good form, and their Head Coach Chris Little decided to play a youthful squad against United. The decision to play a young squad paid off early for him.
Defiance forward, Azriel Gonzalez opened the scoring for the night in the eighth minute. Able to get Juan Pablo Guzman off balance in the box, Gonzalez gave himself enough space to put a left-footed shot on target. Going across the face of the goal, his shot would ricochet off the inside of the far post and into the net to grab the early lead.
In recent weeks, United had been slow to respond after falling behind, but not on this night. In under a minute, Chris Wehan would put United back on level terms. Frater would make a slicing run between two Defiance defenders before taking a shot of his own. Although Muse was able to make the save, he was unable to control the ball. Wehan, who was once again in the right place at the right time, would get just enough of a touch on the ball to put it into the net.
Despite giving up the quick response, Little’s club didn’t break under pressure. Showing that they could go blow for blow with United, they would give themselves a chance to retake the lead just before the half-hour mark. Alec Diaz would come into possession of the ball just outside of the box and would send Cody Mizell scrambling to make a save. Trying to go for the bottom left corner of the box, Mizell’s diving save was the only thing that kept the visitors from retaking the lead.
United would see two more good chances before the end of the half. The first came when Austin Yearwood was able to get behind the Defiance defenders, allowing Frater to position himself inside the box. After settling the backward pass from Yearwood, Frater let fly towards the goal, but the attempt was blocked.
The second attempt would come just before the referee signaled for half-time. Tacoma conceded a handball around twenty yards away from goal and near the center of the box. With the ball in a position that has seen Wehan have a lot of success with, both he and Devon Sandoval stood over it, waiting to take the kick. Sandoval would be the one to take the kick, and though it had enough pace on it, the shot sailed over the bar.
Early in the second half, United was looking to get a quick goal and had several chances to do so. The quick reactions of the Tacoma defense and Muse kept United from accomplishing this. The early attack was ended when Muse was able to corral a close-range shot from Santi Moar. In addition to starting fast in the attacking third, United started to press when they were on the defensive.
The press was unsuccessful in causing Tacoma to make any mistakes, but the movement United was exhibiting allowed Wehan the opportunity to get some more looks in the final third. Nearing the hour mark, Wehan would come close twice, but his attempts were dealt with by Tacoma. United’s inability to find the go-ahead goal created a very tense atmosphere in the park. With United’s attack becoming unrelenting, Little would sub on a fifth defender to help Tacoma walk away with at least one point.
With every minute that passed, United became more determined to find a winner. It looked to many like they had during one sequence of events. Muse had made one save, but on the rebound, the ball appeared to have gone fully past the goal line before he made a second one. Unfortunately for United and their supporters, neither the referee or his assistant signaled for a goal and allowed play to continue.
Miraculously, Tacoma was able to prevent United from finding a goal in the closing moments. Having faced 36 shots, 15 of which were on target, somehow, Tacoma only conceded the lone goal.
Player of the Match
Chris Wehan – In a match where so many different players had a chance to earn the honor of player of the match, this week it has to go to Wehan. After pulling the club level early in the match, Wehan went on to create five additional chances and had multiple other attempts blocked or saved.
Kevaughn Frater picked up his eleventh yellow card of the season and will be suspended for two matches as a result. Due to USL Championship rules, this suspension cannot be carried over into the playoffs. Frater will miss the match against Las Vegas Lights FC and the season opener in 2020.
United’s last chance to make the playoffs will be on Saturday, October 19, when they play host to Las Vegas Lights FC. With that match set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain), United must come away with three points to have a chance of making the playoffs. United and their supporters will also be paying close attention to the outcomes of the matches involving San Antonio FC and LA Galaxy II. If United wins and either of those two clubs lose or draw, United would make the playoffs.
photo courtesy Kayla Mehring / Sounderatheart.com