Playing on the road in the USL is always difficult. New Mexico United’s match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies was no different. Two first-half goals only served to whet the appetite of those watching before the Rowdies escaped with a 3-2 win over United.
New Mexico was a major underdog heading into the weekend against the perennial powerhouse from the Eastern Conference. FiveThirtyEight had the Rowdies with a 54% chance to win on Saturday. Despite the odds being stacked against them, United came out looking confident. With First Assistant Masaki Hemmi at the helm, United deployed a 4-4-2 on the road, which was to be expected.
“We are conducting a coaching search and have made a lot of progress. In the meantime, we have total confidence in Mac and the rest of the staff,” said United Owner and President Peter Trevisani in his weekly segment on TEAM Talk on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM.
What wasn’t expected was the style that the hosts were playing. Normally an aggressive side, the Rowdies sat back throughout the half, dropping all eleven players behind the ball. The positioning of Cal Jennings became more pronounced after the opening goal of the match, with him sitting near midfield when the hosts were out of possession.
Almost against the run of play, the Rowdies were the side to open the scoring for the night. United had taken possession of the ball in their defensive third and as Austin Yearwood attempted to play the ball forward, it was intercepted by Charlie Dennis. As Yearwood tried to chase him across the middle of the pitch, Sam Hamilton and Kalen Ryden rotated to the left side to ensure the Rowdies runners were covered. From deeper on the pitch, Ryan Spaulding surged forward looking for a ball from Dennis. he received it near the edge of the goal area and shooting across the face of the goal, his left-footed shot squeaked past Alex Tambakis in the 18th for the lead, 1-0.
United kept their heads up and kept looking for chances to break the gaps between the Rowdies’ defenders. Multiple times they had been able to turn defenders, but hadn’t made anything happen yet. Just before halftime, United drew a foul on the right wing, and over the ball stood Justin Portillo. Portillo, the set piece expert, sent a right-footed cross into the area where Ryden made a great run to head the ball down and past the Rowdies’ keeper in the 45th to pull level, 1-1.
In the 55th, the hosts were able to retake the lead on a breakaway opportunity. Driving at United’s left side, Sebastien Dalgaard looked up and found Dennis near the top of the area. With only a glimmer of light in front of him, Dennis took the ball onto his right foot and snuck it into the bottom right corner, 2-1 Rowdies.
It wouldn’t take long for the hosts to extend their lead. Into the 70th minute the match went and Lawrence Wyke ran down a ball that was speeding towards the byline. With a show of agility, Wyke cut back to his left and squared the ball to Spaulding inside the area. Although Spaulding didn’t get a clean shot off, he got just enough of the ball to chip it into the goal over an outstretched Tambakis, 3-1.
United wasn’t done fighting, however. In the 77th, the Teal clad United cut the lead back down to one goal. After Connor Sparrow made a leaping save to keep a header from Greg Hurst from finding the back of the net, the resulting corner allowed United to create an overload on the right wing and a chance for another goal. Harry Swartz laid the ball off to Hurst who once again forced a save out of Sparrow. The rebound fell directly to Swartz who finished it off to pull United within one, 3-2.
Both sides would close out the match looking for additional chances to either close out the match or pull back level. Neither would get a better opportunity for the remainder of the match and the Rowdies held on for a 3-2 win.
Player of the Match
Kalen Ryden – Ryden was up his usual bag of tricks as he locked down the center of the area for much of the night against Tampa Bay. He stood up the attacking players of the hosts and forced them to often make mistakes, keeping them off frame. He also contributed at the attacking end of the pitch, adding a headed goal during stoppage time of the first half.
United returns to play on Saturday, June 17 when they host Rio Grande Valley FC at The Lab. That match is scheduled to kickoff at 7:00 p.m. Broadcast coverage from ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM will begin at 6:00 p.m. with the pre-game show starring Andy Hageman and Scott Galetti. The pair will bring you all the pre-game notes as well as every minute of the match afterward. The broadcast can be heard on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, on The TEAM app, or on the 101.7 The TEAM website.