And just like that, New Mexico United’s season-long road trip comes to an end. After putting together one of the more improbable seasons that many have ever seen, it came down to nothing more than some bad luck.
The club’s fifth trip to El Paso this season didn’t start how many had hoped it would. The Locomotive took the opening kick off and immediately sent the ball over the top to try and get behind United’s defense. While their initial attack didn’t pay off, the hosts were the aggressor for much of the first half. While United has typically been the club pressing their opponent, the early possession of El Paso prevented United from employing their own game plan.
Just before the half-hour mark, Amando Moreno was dispossessed at midfield and gave the hosts an opportunity to counter. Aaron Gomez took the ball near the 18-yard box and laid it off for Dylan Mares. Mares made a run just inside the left corner of the box and let fly with a right-footed shot. From the angle, Mares was able to shoot back across goal and into the top right corner of the net, putting the hosts ahead.
It wasn’t until after the goal that United came to life. From the 35th minute on, United was much more active but wasn’t able to trouble Logan Ketterer. Going into the half down by a goal, it was up to Troy Lesesne to inspire the club and light a fire under them.
Whatever adjustments were made at halftime, including subbing off Daniel Bruce for David Najem, worked. United dominated possession in the second half and started to ask questions of the El Paso defense. Even with the increase in possession, it still took United a significant portion of the half to really look dangerous. One of the keys to unlocking United’s attack proved to be the insertion of Romeo Parkes into the match.
After Parkes came on, there was a different look to how United was playing. Not only did they play with more energy, but there were times where Lesesne sent Kalen Ryden up to play as almost a third striker or attacking midfielder. While United was still chasing an equalizer, Mark Lowry wanted to protect his club’s lead. One by one, Lowry pulled each of his forwards out of the match, replacing them with either a defender or a midfielder, and sat his entire club behind the ball.
It wasn’t until the final minute of stoppage time that United would finally pull level. After pressing for a goal for the final ten minutes, there was a small window of opportunity for United. Chris Wehan sent the ball to Parkes, who was around 28 yards from goal, and straight out from it. Taking advantage of a gap in the nine El Paso players between him and the goal, Parkes sent a shot skipping across the turf and past a diving Ketterer to send the match to extra time.
With no true forwards on the pitch for the Locomotive, their chances of finding a winner looked slim. Despite not having the attacking prowess they needed to win, they defended their own goal for another 30 minutes, keeping United from doing the same. Still tied at the end of extra time, the match was set to be decided by penalty kicks.
The hosts went first and sent Eder Borelli to the spot. He would send a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner, but Mizell was able to get his hands on it. Unfortunately for Mizell, there was too much pace and spin on the ball, giving it just enough to get into the net. Devon Sandoval would follow that and keep the sides level.
Next up was Nick Ross for El Paso. Once again, he went left, and Mizell guessed correctly, getting his hands on it again. Just like the first attempt, the ball went off of his hands and into the net. The first two attempts would come back to haunt United. Wehan, Richie Ryan, and Kalen Ryden would all succeed on their attempts, making it three each heading into the fourth round. In the fourth, Saeed Robinson would make his, but Parkes’ attempt was saved.
It all came down to the final round. A save by Mizell would keep United’s season alive, and a miss would end it. Distal Zola, the last sub of the night for El Paso, stepped to the spot and put the ball into the right corner while Mizell went the wrong way. The make by Zola sent El Paso into the Western Conference Final, where they will take on Phoenix Rising FC.
Man of the Match
Cody Mizell – Throughout the match and the entire season, Mizell kept United in the match and made terrific saves, including one that saved the game. Without Mizell’s effort between the sticks, the match may have never gone to extra time.
For New Mexico United the 2020 campaign is over. The club will head back to Albuquerque and start to move forward to the offseason. Troy Lesesne will have some hard decisions to make when it comes to deciding which players they want to return for next season. Given how well the club performed this year, supporters should prepare themselves for the possibility that a number of players could have suitors and contract offers to play elsewhere in 2021.
Image Credit: NM United Facebook Page