There haven’t been too many forgettable nights in New Mexico United’s history, but this has to be one of them. In their first loss to El Paso, United surrendered a lead twice and couldn’t recover from late miscues to rescue a point.
The night started out well for the men in black and yellow with the press causing some havoc inside the defensive half for El Paso Locomotive. After the hosts had an early corner attempt cleared, it was only a matter of seconds before United was off on the counter. Chris Wehan sent a high chipped ball over the back line of the Locomotive to spring Amando Moreno down the right channel. Moreno would beat Mechack Jerome and go one-on-one with keeper Logan Ketterer. Driving at the right post, he pulled the attention of three different Locomotive players, allowing David Estrada to make a run at the far post. Instead of shooting, Moreno squared the ball back to Estrada, who was able to slot home and take the early lead.
The lead wouldn’t hold for long though. In the 25th, El Paso would earn a corner and Dylan Mares would stand over it. His delivery was sent beyond the far post where Macauley King was able to get a piece of it. His header went into the ground and just inside the near post. Cody Mizell made a diving attempt to stop it and was able to get a hand on it, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of the net.
Now level, United knew they had to respond. The press picked up it’s momentum again and allowed United to earn more possession in the attacking half. That pressure would pay off in the 40th. A poor pass from Ketterer led to United gaining possession at the top of the box. A few short passes later, Devon Sandoval flicked a backheel to Moreno near the far post, but he was taken down from behind with a dangerous tackle from King. The referee awarded a penalty to United, and only a yellow card to King. Sandoval would be given the chance to convert and delivered a strike down the middle of the net, putting United back in front.
Coming out of the break, El Paso was the club to get off on the right foot. United on the other hand, kept falling back deep into their own defensive half. Inside the first minute, United had to fend off multiple shots in short order. The hosts were flipping the script on United, employing a high press of their own and imposing their will. That pressure would continue to mount over the next fifteen minutes, until there was a breakthrough.
Just before the hour mark, Omar Salgado would attempt to cross the ball from the left side of the box to Mares. Just out of the reach of Mares, it would end up going off the leg of Austin Yearwood and into the net for an own goal. Similarly to how United plays, the pressure from El Paso forced United into a mistake after being unable to clear the ball from not only their defensive third, but the entire half.
United just never seemed able to get back on the right foot since the second half began. In the 88th they lost track of Mares once again. In a run just like the prior attempt that resulted in the own goal, Salgado once again sent a pass in from the left side towards Mares. Mares would strike from near the penalty spot and sent the ball into the bottom left corner, giving the hosts a 3-2 lead.
It was a tale of two halves for United as they were unable to withstand the pressure from El Paso as they lost for the first time in this series. As a result of the loss, United now hold only a two point lead over El Paso in Group C.
Next up for United is a return to Herriman, Utah for their third match of the season against Real Monarchs SLC. That match will take place on Saturday, September 12. United’s path to retaining first place has a number of paths now, the easiest being win every remaining match. With only five matches remaining, every point is crucial.