After the international experience of a lifetime, New Mexico United heads back into league play with some new faces on the roster and still a lot to prove both to themselves and the rest of the league. In their return, the Black & Yellow will be looking to put a dent in Sacramento Republic’s run for first.
Sacramento has been one of the strongest clubs in the USL since the start of the 2023 season and even a slight drop in form hasn’t made them look any worse. Their front office has continued to build off the success of the 2022 season that saw the Republic reach the final of the U.S. Open Cup and the Western Conference semifinal. The offseason moves only served to solidify the returning roster and the clubs has developed into one of, if not the most well-rounded sides in the league.
After scoring thirty goals in two seasons with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Republic was able to pry Russell Cicerone away and entice him to move West. Since joining, all he’s done is continue to be one of the best strikers in the league. With ten goal already in 2023, Cicerone is making his mark within the conference and fighting for the Golden Boot. As if that wasn’t enough, Sacramento’s defense is one of the best in the league, allowing the club to boast a +19 goal differential. As good as United has played lately, this will truly be the test of the season.
Player to Watch
Keko – Keko is always a dangerous player no matter where he is on the pitch. He’s a creative midfielder that likes to get forward and involve himself in the attack. He’s not quite the scoring threat that Cicerone is, but he’s a distributor and creates chances for those around him.
United has been building momentum since Eric Quill took charge of the club. After a slow start, they’ve won three of four and are showing how big of a threat they could be in the West. And even though the veterans failed to get off the mark in the friendly against Sunderland, it took a miraculous effort by their young keeper to prevent United from scoring.
“The keeper dove the right way four times,” stated Quill after the match. “That’s something we’ll get ironed out. We had a lot of good looks and we just didn’t get him (Young) crossed up enough.”
United looked really good in the first half and came close several times to potentially putting up two to three goals against an EFL Championship club. Daniel Bruce and Sergio Rivas continued to look dynamic and had the opportunity to put their legs through the paces after having the weekend prior off.
Defensively, United has shown a lot of improvement under the new gaffer. Two clean sheets in the last three matches shows that they’re responding better than they were in weeks prior and that there’s been a mentality shift. Goals no longer make the club drop their heads and the work rates have picked up, particularly from the veteran centrebacks.
Coach Quill brought up clean sheets during the Sunderland post-match press conference, “If we get our work off the ball right, we’re going to start to see shutouts. Thats what I want to see, more consistent shutouts. We’re moving the needle in the right direction, but we have more to do.”
Player to Watch
Jacobo Reyes – One of the newest signings for New Mexico United, Reyes saw limited play against Sunderland, but is a player that Coach Quill believes can make an impact. Quill previously coached Reyes and was someone that the club identified and sought to bring in. Reyes is pacey and can get in behind defenders, which could be big against Sacramento Republic.
Coverage of Saturday night’s match on ESPN Radio will begin with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pre-game show starting at 6. The pair will continue all the way up to and through kickoff at 7 p.m. bringing every minute of every play live on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, on The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.