For the first time in club history, New Mexico United has won three consecutive matches. It wasn’t quite as clear cut as the previous two matches, but any time you can take 9 points in 8 days, it’s an impressive run. It’s even more so when you consider six of those points came against the defending USL Champion Real Monarchs SLC.
With seven changes to the team sheet from Wednesday, Head Coach Troy Lesesne sent out what was arguably one of the strongest lineups that United can put together. After a night off, Chris Wehan made his return as did Rashid Tetteh for a formation that on paper looked like a 4231. The change of formation allowed Lesesne to insert both Amando Moreno and Daniel Bruce on the wings, giving United a much more balanced attack. That balance is something that United didn’t have in 2019 and is making a difference in the final third this season.
It didn’t take long for United to get on the board on Saturday night. Both Moreno and Wehan would be involved in the opener after a foul was conceded by Real 25 yards from goal. The position of the foul and the set-piece play that United ran was very similar to one from prior matches, and the Monarchs were unable to stop this one. Standing over the ball, Wehan would deliver a sinking cross from his right foot into the box where Moreno was able to shake the net with his right foot.
The Monarchs nearly responded immediately when United lost possession inside their own box. The ball fell to Ryan Sierakowski, who quickly turned and put a strong shot towards goal. The shot was low and towards the near post, but the placement was just off as it went inches outside of the frame.
The hosts would get the next best chance to score right at the half-hour mark. After Tetteh conceded a foul just outside the 18-yard box, Monarchs defender Noah Powder would be given the chance to break the club’s goalless drought. His shot looked dangerous but was just wide of goal.
Neither side would threaten the opposing goal before the end of the half, and United would happily take the lead into the break. Although United could have potentially extended their lead, it was their transformation on the pitch that was truly impressive. It’s become common for United’s formation to adapt throughout the match to better handle what their opponents want to do.
For much of the half United actually played in a 343, but when they were in possession, there was a drastic shift. Their formation became more of a 352 and allowed them to overload the ball side of the pitch. That, in turn, allowed the winger and centreback on the opposite side of the pitch to become isolated, and quickly move the ball into space and make dangerous plays in the Monarchs defensive half.
It didn’t take long after play resumed for United to once again take control of the match. In the 48th, a poor clearance from Taylor Peay put the ball right into the path of Wehan. On a half-volley and with his weak foot, Chris would send a rocket into the bottom left corner of the goal for his 6th goal of the season.
Up by two goals, the match looked to be well in hand for United, but Real wasn’t going to go quietly. In the 53rd, Bode Davis attempted to play a through ball in behind the United back line, but it was deflected by Kalen Ryden. In an unfortunate turn for United, the ball went straight back to Davis, whose second attempt to play the ball in succeeded. He was able to find Sierakowski making a run from the left side of the box. Sierakowski would chip the ball off his right chin and seemed to catch Cody Mizell off guard and off his line. Unable to backtrack fast enough, the ball looped high enough over the diving Mizell to make it into the net to pull one back for the Monarchs.
After the goal, United looked to maintain the lead. They weren’t necessarily playing defensively, but they were passing the ball around the pitch in an attempt to force Real to rush at them and lose their shape. If United was able to accomplish this, it would open them up to more chances to get in on goal. The Monarchs played into United’s gameplan in the second half, rushing in to try and dispossess the boys in yellow and play on the break.
Despite their best efforts, the hosts were unable to break down the United defense and find a leveler in the closing minutes of the match.
Man of the Match
Chris Wehan – If Wehan wasn’t garnering the attention of MLS clubs before tonight, surely he has their attention now. In eight games played this season, the United midfielder now has six goals and two assists. His vision and movements on the pitch are constantly putting him in a position to make an impact on the outcome of the matches. He is making the most of his time on the pitch in every appearance so far.
With the win tonight and the result from the match between El Paso Locomotive FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, United’s lead in Group C has been extended to 7 points with only seven matches left to play. After four matches in 14 days, United gets a week break before their next match. Next up on the schedule is a return to Colorado Springs to once again take on the Switchbacks. That match is set for a 6 p.m. (mountain) kickoff on Saturday, August 29.
Image credit: New Mexico UTD Facebook account.