The 2023 season hasn’t started the way that New Mexico United would have liked it too. After opening the season with a win, two consecutive losses have brought up the same questions from a year ago. With San Diego Loyal coming to town, those questions may not be answered.
Loyal has started its season strong, picking up where it left off in 2022. The San Diego-based club finished the 2022 season second in the regular season before losing to Oakland Roots in the opening round of the playoffs. In the off-season, the front office made a few changes, including Landon Donovan stepping down as manager and being replaced by his assistant, Nate Miller. One of the key acquisitions for Miller was the signing of Ronaldo Damus. Damus, who is well-known for his 2021 playoff heroics, has been showing up in a big way for Loyal so far. Proving to be a dynamic target man, Damus has already found the net twice in four appearances.
Equally as strong for Loyal this season has been their defensive play. In his second year with the club, Koke Vegas continues to impress between the sticks. The Spaniard is no stranger to playing at a high level after spending much of his early career in the Spanish football pyramid. He commands the area and is tough to get the ball past. The defense in front of Vegas has only allowed opponents to put eighteen shots on frame so far this season. Loyal’s combination at the back could keep United well out of range of threatening on Saturday.
Player to Watch
Evan Conway – As a player who will likely spell Damus throughout the season, Conway is more than capable of being a target man for Loyal. After an extremely successful two years with Union Omaha, Conway made the jump to the Championship and has been very good at this level as well. With eleven goals in two thirty-six appearances, he could be a possible Golden Boot contender at the end of the season.
United is already in the unenviable position of looking up at the rest of the Western Conference. Despite getting two goals from open play against Monterey Bay, the attacking options continued to struggle. Things looked promising early, but the defensive efforts of the Black and Yellow put the club in a tough spot. In conceding four unanswered goals, there was little chance of United picking up a win, let alone a single point.
The concerning factor at the back so far has been the inability to play in transition. Against both Monterey and Oakland, United was caught out of position multiple times and appeared unable to deal with the counterattack of both opponents. Monterey in particular took advantage of the ability of their keeper to distribute the ball and turn upfield. United will need to do a much better job of maintaining their defensive positioning and slowing down Loyal in transition if they hope to pick up a point in the home opener.
Player to Watch
The Defensive Formation – As stated, this has been one of the weaker points for United on the season. Players were rotating out of position and giving the ball away in precarious positions in prior matches. If they are able to sort out the issues, they have a chance to stop the early season success of Loyal.
Saturday night’s match at The Lab is scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m. (MT). The match will be streamed domestically on ESPN+ and internationally on YouTube. Locally, the match will also be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, and The TEAM website.