As they head into Tampa Bay, New Mexico United is facing more questions than they have all season long. Between a two-match losing streak and the departure of their head coach, United has to come together quickly and find a path forward.
With their lack of form and lack of even an official interim manager, it would be easy to write them off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Perennial favorites in the Eastern Conference, this season is no different for the Rowdies. Tampa comes into the weekend riding a six-match unbeaten streak and sits in third place in the East. The way their roster is constructed, this is a club that could compete with many of the clubs in the MLS and have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Top to bottom, they have one of the best rosters and it just got even better. While JJ Williams and Cal Jennings have been more than enough so far this year, the front office just brought back Jake LaCava on loan from Inter Miami as a means of reinforcements. The 2022 Young Player finalist contribute twelve goals last season and has plenty of time this year to do the same.
At the same time that their offense has been one of the best in the league, their defensive efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Centered around the veteran leadership of Forest Lasso, the Rowdies command one of the best defensive units as well. Connor Sparrow has been outstanding between the sticks, leading the club to four clean sheets through the first third of the season. Sparrow and Lasso have molded the back four into a well-tuned machine. The defense of Tampa Bay will be the toughest test for United because of their ability to stifle opponents inside the goal area.
Player to Watch
JJ Williams – While United was able to contain Williams during his time with Phoenix Rising, he’s experiencing a much better environment in Tampa. The system is a better fit for the forward and the supporting cast is significantly better. Williams’ size and ability on the ball will be crucial against a United back four that has had issues rotating at times this year.
Just when things seemed as though they were improving for United, inconsistent performances popped up in consecutive matches against San Antonio FC and El Paso Locomotive. While the first seemed salvageable with a strong second-half performance, the latter was harder to explain. There was no sense of urgency at all against El Paso and United looked lost at times. After the match against El Paso, it was revealed that now-former head coach, Zach Prince was leaving the club to pursue another coaching opportunity. Whether or not that had an impact on the match would depend on when the club found out. In either case, the past two performances were not up to snuff.
After that announcement, it was unclear who was going to be in charge of the preparations leading up to the Tampa Bay match. It wasn’t until Monday that the club revealed the First Assistant Masaki Hemmi would lead the coaching staff in match day preparations. It’s doubtful that Masaki would make too many changes to the club’s style of play on just a week’s worth of preparation, so it would be safe to assume that United would come out in a formation similar to the 3-5-3 that we’ve seen for much of the season. The club will have to be consistent in the midfield and play with purpose in order to get the ball forward against a very strong Rowdies club. That’s where this match will be won or lost. Defensively, United has enough talent to slow down Tampa Bay, but the other end will have to be a lot better.
Speaking on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM during his weekly segment, team Owner and President Peter Trevisani was confident about where the club stood in spite of the record. “We are right on the bubble of the playoffs right now. We have a lot of games left, a lot of home games left. Everything is in front of us and nothing is guaranteed. I’m excited to see what happens. I’m confident when the season ends we’ll be hosting our first playoff game.”
Player to Watch
Sam Hamilton – Inconsistent has been the word of the year for United, including the club captain. Hamilton did well against El Paso last weekend, receiving praise from the outgoing gaffer for his efforts. Though he is more of a defensive midfielder, Sam has the ability to distribute the ball well and push the play into the attacking third. He will need to be on top of his game against the Rowdies this weekend for United to have a chance at picking up a point on the road.
Coverage for Saturday evening’s match on 101.7 The TEAM will begin at 4:30 p.m. with Andy Hageman and Scott Galetti on the pre-game show. They will bring you up to date on all the latest news surrounding New Mexico United prior to kickoff at 5:30 p.m. From there the duo will broadcast the match live for the duration. Our coverage of the game can be found on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, or on The TEAM website.