Every sports fan is familiar with the playoffs. Emotions are higher, the stakes bigger. The pressure? Immense.
But, don’t tell that to New Mexico United.
They’ve played in high-pressure situations already this season and have done what few believed they could in their inaugural season. An impressive run through the U.S. Open Cup has prepared them for the upcoming USL Championship playoff schedule. Their run through the tournament forced United to play all five of their matches on the road, a stat that has them feeling comfortable about doing it again.
As long as United continues to progress through the USL playoffs, they will keep playing on the road.
Although their road record within the league isn’t great, United knows what has to be done, especially when it comes to Sacramento Republic FC.
The two sides have played twice this season, splitting the series with a win apiece. In the first match, Sacramento put up a clean sheet against United in Albuquerque for a 3-0 win. United returned the favor in the return match, defeating Sacramento 2-1. Fivethirtyeight.com has listed Sacramento has a heavy favorite, but United and their supporters have plenty of reasons to believe in an upset.
With the playoffs beginning, United will benefit from having all yellow card accumulations wiped clean. That means the return of Kevaughn Frater, who missed the season finale. United’s attack and attack some more philosophy that has been on display in recent weeks has started to pay off. He and Devon Sandoval could both benefit from the club’s current form; two others could be in for a big night.
United exhibited dominance in the midfield against Las Vegas, and that translated to a goal for Chris Wehan and a near goal for Daniel Bruce. The pair of midfielders both scored against Sacramento in the previous match and will be in position to do so again. With Sandoval and Frater drawing the majority of the attention from the Republic defenders, Wehan and Bruce will have extra room to operate. They both can strike from outside the box, which makes the task of defending them even tougher.
Player to Watch
Rashid Tetteh and Justin Schmidt – For all the attention that the United forwards and midfielders get, Tetteh and Schmidt deserve it just as much. In recent weeks, they were able to keep Solomon Asante and Irvin Parra off the scoreline and allowed no shots on target to Las Vegas. They will look to duplicate that performance and keep Cameron Iwasa in check on Wednesday night.
As good as Sacramento Republic has been at home this season, their home-field advantage hasn’t affected opponents at the end of the season. Not only did they lose the final two matches of the regular season, but they are also winless in their final three home matches.
Not a stat any club would be happy to have staring them in the face.
Republic FC is always dangerous, no matter their form. For them to be successful, Sam Werner has to be involved from the beginning. The midfielder caused all sorts of issues for United in both matches this year. Containing him will likely fall to Sam Hamilton or Juan Pablo Guzman. Disruption will be the key for United when dealing with the attack of Sacramento.
Werner will be looking to set up Cameron Iwasa or Thomas Enevoldsen in the final third. The two forwards were responsible for the majority of Sacramento’s goals this season. If they can carry that form into the playoffs, Sacramento could earn a home playoff win for the first time since 2014.
Player to Watch
Sam Werner – Werner brings a lot to the pitch with his ability to create chances. With 51 chances created on the season, Werner has an uncanny ability to see the pitch and put the ball into the feet of his forwards. He is susceptible to making poor passes when pressured, which is something that United can take advantage of.
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 8:30 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, October 23. 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.
photo courtesy Jim Thompson/ABQ Journal