The biggest international friendly in New Mexico United history didn’t go the way of the hosts, but it wasn’t without a lot of fun along the way to a 2-3 loss to Sunderland AFC.
United looked strong early in the evening, with a starting eleven that looked like it could take on anyone in the USL. The Black and Yellow threatened to score on multiple occasions, but the attempts were all foiled by 16-year-old Sunderland keeper Matthew Young. It seemed that no matter where United put the ball, high or low, Young was there to keep the net clear.
Undeterred by the confidence of United, the Black Cats were merely biding their time.
In the 38th, they finally found home on one of their first shots of the evening. From outside the area, Pierre Ekwah let loose with a thunderous strike. Despite his best efforts, United keeper Ford Parker didn’t stand a chance at stopping the shot as it went into the top right corner to give Sunderland the lead, 0-1.
Luis Semedo would double the lead in the 42nd with a brilliant header. In the right position at the right time, Semedo simply put the ball where Parker wasn’t and found an empty net, 0-2 to Sunderland.
At halftime, Head Coach Eric Quill sent on a full complement of subs, nine in total to give chances to United’s Academy and U23 standouts. The younger players were fearless in their play against a much more experienced opponent. While the gap was evident, it didn’t prevent United from continuing to go for it. They had several opportunities early that didn’t quite pan out, but would be a sign of things to come.
Before it got better though, the scoreline would get worse for the Black & Yellow. Just past the hour mark, the Black Cats were pushing for a third goal to put the match out of reach. In the 65th, United was trying to stave off another attack from the visitors and appeared to have done so after a tremendous save by Parker, but the rebound was put away by Isaac Lihadji to extend the lead, 0-3.
United showed no signs of quitting and was finding some opportunities, both over the top and through the middle of the grounds. In the 88th, Milo Garvanian created some space for himself around 24 yards from goal and took a chance. His shot took a deflection off of a Sunderland player and left Young flatfooted as it looped over the keep and into the back of the goal, 1-3.
The home side wasn’t done yet. United continued to press and new signing Isaac Zuleta was becoming a nuisance for the visitors. Between the physicality and pace he showed in limited minutes, he was a handful. In stoppage time, he drew a penalty as he was taken down in the box. After some discussion between himself and the other new signing Jacobo Reyes, Zuleta was the one to step to the spot. As Young went to his right, Zuleta drove the ball down the center of the net and converted the penalty to close the gap, 2-3.
Unfortunately for United, there was no time left to strike again as the referee blew for full time.
Player of the Match
Michael Wyparlo – He won’t show up in the stat sheet, but Wyparlo had a great night defensively. Play after play, he stood up with better talent and stopped several promising attacks. Wyparlo will hopefully see more playing time with the first team after that showing.
United returns to league play on Saturday evening when Western Conference leaders Sacramento Republic FC visit The Lab. Coverage of Saturday’s match will begin at 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pre-match show. The duo will then cover every minute of every play with kickoff starting at 7:00 p.m.