After the promising start on Wednesday night and the lack of follow-thru, New Mexico United was adamant that they weren’t going to let it happen again. On the back of a strong first half, United rode early momentum to a 2-1 win over FC Tulsa.
Less than 72 hours after falling to Oakland Roots, United was back on the pitch at The Lab, fighting for their playoff lives. Against a club also fighting for their spot, FC Tulsa, the match had all the makings for a track meet to break out. Ninety seconds into the affair, Zico Bailey’s ability to get into space created an opportunity for United. Taking a pass from Santi Moar out wide, Bailey would cross the ball into the middle of the box where Harry Swartz and Shanyder Borgelin were both waiting for their chance. Swartz brought the ball down and off the volley, and hammered it into the right corner of the net for the opener, 1-0.
Tulsa wasn’t about to sit back and let the match get away from them and very nearly answered a minute later. Milo Yosef was played through the United defense and he was off to the races. Going one-on-one with Alex Tambakis, the Greek keeper came well off of his line to try and cut down the attacking angle. In his attempt to play the ball, Tambakis went to ground and Yosef skipped around the keeper. Fortunately for United, Austin Yearwood came back into the play from behind and made a significant tackle to stop the attack.
There was a moment in the 10th minute of the game that will never hit the stat sheets, but United captain Sam Hamilton made a veteran move that dampened Tulsa’s attempts to play quickly. After conceding a foul near midfield, Tulsa tried to restart play exceptionally quickly. Instead of pushing the ball forward, Hamilton was right in the way and caused a deflection that slowed down what Tulsa wanted to do, much to their dismay.
Tulsa’s journeyman Marcus Epps would try to threaten the goal in the 15th minute, but the ‘shot’ was off target and went out of play. The visitors wouldn’t get another shot off until the 42nd minute of the half when Phillip Goodrum tried to shoot from the right side of the box. At a relatively tight angle, Goodrum’s shot had little chance of finding the net, but he took the chance and went well over the bar.
Just before the halftime whistle, United extended their lead thanks to Sergio Rivas. As United recycled a cleared ball, Moar looked to the right side of the pitch where two things happened. First, Bailey, who was in a position to potentially take the pass, instead let the ball go. This small decision turned into a big one. Second, as the pass was rolling through, Jacobo Reyes made a run, unmarked, down the right wing. Reyes would end up with Moar’s pass at his feet and then cross the ball toward the far post. Rivas planted his feet in the area and thundered home a header to the right corner of the net to make it 2-0 in the 45th minute.
Not much changed in the second half. The footrace continued between the two sides and both were desperate to pick up a win. United hadn’t won in over a calendar month and they seemed well on their way to ending that run.
In 69th, Bailey and Rivas made way for Josh Suggs and Will Seymore, a change that would have a significant impact on the rest of the night. Bailey’s efforts had been solid all night at both ends of the pitch and he had been able to keep Marcus Epps fairly quiet. Once the change was made though, Tulsa made a concerted effort to focus on the right side of United’s defense. It quickly became apparent that Seymore wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the pace presented by Epps.
Epps would make that pay off for the visitors in the 78th. Played out wide by Eric Bird, Epps would go charging past Seymore before cutting back on to his right. Firing from near the corner of the eighteen yard box, Epps would send a rocket into the top right corner of the net, leaving no hope for Tambakis to get to it, and cut the lead in half, 2-1.
As Tulsa continued to press, United adjusted and started to overload the side that Epps was on. This effectively cut out the forward from having any further impact and allowed United to close out the night and pick up their first win in over a calendar month.
Player of the Match
Zico Bailey – Bailey has a lot of intangibles that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Bailey picked up an assist on the first goal and his dummy helped set up the second one. His pace was an issue throughout the night for Tulsa and he effectively shut down Marcus Epps while he was on the pitch.
The third match of United’s homestand is coming up fast, and the club will be back in action on Wednesay, August 30 against Las Vegas Lights FC. Coverage of Wednesday’s match will begin at 6 on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pregame show. Coverage continues with Adam and Andy as they bring every minute of every play when the match begins at 7 p.m. All the action can be heard live on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.