It wasn’t quite the beginning of 2020 that New Mexico United (0-1-0) had hoped for. Although, perhaps it’s what they needed.
In 2019 United didn’t lose until their eighth match of the season, and with a beginning like that, there was a certain amount of pressure that came with it. The early loss may relieve some that and allow the club to play freer than in the following matches. Only time will tell how that will play out.
Ahead of tonight, there was plenty of talk around the supporter community about how the new-look roster would perform in a truly competitive match. The starting XI against Austin Bold FC (1-0-0) featured five of the newest signings for Troy Lesesne’s squad. It was also a surprise to see team captain Josh Suggs not available for selection, even among the subs. Shortly before kickoff, the club’s Twitter account reported that Suggs was unavailable due to an injury. In his absence, both Kalen Ryden and David Najem made their debuts.
As play got underway, United controlled the early run of possession, not allowing Bold to get involved for the first quarter-hour. The early dominance was highlighted by an attempted bicycle kick by Devon Sandoval, but the shot went directly to the waiting Diego Restrepo. Much like the two matches last season, the play quickly became physical between the two clubs, but they were largely allowed to play without much interference from the referee.
Just before the first half ended, Bold was nearly gifted a goal. After a Sean McFarlane shot from the right side of the box wasn’t cleanly handled by Cody Mizell, the ball fell at the feet of Thomas de Villardi. de Villardi was unable to get the ball out from under him right at the goal line and was ultimately dispossessed by Justin Schmidt, keeping the score 0-0 going into halftime.
After the break, Ema Twumasi would make a run into United’s box and, while effectively surrounded by a number of United players, would go to the ground after contact with Schmidt. The referee correctly awarded Bold FC with a penalty after the foul was conceded. There was some controversy as to whether or not it should have been allowed, as it appeared that Twumasi handled the ball in order to bring it under control. With the referee’s decision made, Andre Lima stepped to the spot and delivered a strike to the upper left corner of the goal, out of the reach of a diving Mizell to put the hosts up 1-0.
As the match wore on, United’s energy level seemed to drop, and they weren’t connecting on passes as cleanly as they had earlier. On a number of occasions, the ball was given over to Bold in United’s defensive half, but the efforts of Ryden were enough to keep the hosts from adding to their lead.
The introduction of sub beginning around the 65th minute brought new life to United, and they made more attempts on goal near the end of the match. Despite their best efforts, they could not find a late equalizer on the road.
While there are positives to take away from the performances from the majority of the players who found their way onto the pitch tonight, there are also some reasons to be concerned. Andrew Tinari, who was making his first appearance for the club, could have possibly seen red tonight after several questionable fouls drew the attention of the referee. He may not be as lucky in future matches if he doesn’t clean up his play.
Likewise, the veteran Schmidt struggled throughout the match. With several poor passes and clearances, as well as the penalty conceded, Schmidt just didn’t look the same. In fact, going back to the second half of last season, this is a continuation of form that he showed multiple times. Given the injuries to other United defenders, there wasn’t another option available to Lesesne based on who traveled for this match. It will be telling what happens with the XI next week if Suggs is able to return.
Next week United continue their two-match road trip to open the season. Their next opponent is the newly rebranded FC Tulsa, who drew their season opener against Sacramento Republic FC 1-1. That match will take place on Saturday, March 14, at 6:00 p.m. (Mountain).