Just when it looked like New Mexico United was on the verge of potentially building momentum for the final stretch of games, they found themselves having to fight from behind to save even a point before picking up a 3-3 draw at The Lab against Las Vegas Lights FC.
Much like the last two home matches, United was aggressive from the outset. They moved the ball well and were looking for chances to open the scoring. The best chance wouldn’t come until the wrong side of the half-hour mark though.
In the 32nd minute, United had won a corner kick and with Justin Portillo standing over it, there’s always a chance of some magic happening. His delivery was straight to the center of the area and a mass of bodies. In the midst of it, Amando Moreno rose up and put a header off the crossbar. Two inches lower and the ball would have been in the back of the net.
Moreno was just warming up, however, and minutes later he would put United ahead. In the 34th minute, Austin Yearwood would play his way up the left side of the pitch and look for a chance to send the ball into the area. Moreno saw his opportunity and streaked between two Lights defenders. Taking the through ball in stride, Moreno worked to the byline before cutting back upfield and shooting with his right foot. He expertly placed the ball into the lower left corner for the opener, 1-0.
In our preview this week, we talked about how sneaky good Las Vegas Lights FC was. While it took them a while to play themselves into the match, their tenacity paid off for them. After the goal by Moreno, United seemingly switched off momentarily and paired with a slip in the midfield by Sam Hamilton, Lights were off and running. United was able to slow the attack as they played the ball out for a corner in the 36th, but Andrew Carleton had designs for the set piece. Putting the ball into the area, Marcelo Lage elevated above the defense and headed the ball past a diving Ford Park, who received his first league start of the season, into the bottom left corner of the goal for the equalizer, 1-1.
Plagued by slow starts to the halves all season long, United fell victim to it once again on Wednesday night. The visitors looked to be the better side coming out of the break and were able to put two goals past Parker in a matter of minutes.
The visitor’s second goal of the night came in the 51st minute after a dreadful giveaway in the defensive half by Yearwood. While attempting to pass the ball to Moreno near the center circle, the pass didn’t have near enough on it, allowing Zach Carroll to step into it and take possession. Although Carroll would be dispossessed, the ball fell to Tyler Bagley. The forward would cut to his left and fire the ball past a diving Parker once again, 1-2 for Lights.
Bagley would be involved minutes later as he helped contribute to another goal in the 53rd. This time, Carleton took possession just inside the Lights half of the pitch after Kalen Ryden had pushed into the attacking third to help in the attack. Carleton drove all the way into the defensive third of United before laying the ball off to his right for Bagley. With only Hamilton and Parker in front of him, Bagley squared the ball to Danny Rios at the far post, who tucked the ball away for a third Lights goal, 1-3.
By this point, the night seemed as though it would be a loss for United. The silence in the stands was deafening as Lights attempted to start running the clock after the hour mark and United couldn’t seem to make headway in pulling a goal back.
On the same day that Moreno received a call up to the El Salvador National Team, La Selecta, he looked hungry for more after his attempts in the first half. Seemingly out of nowhere, Moreno pulled a goal back for United in the 76th minute. This time, aided by Sergio Rivas, Moreno took a chipped pass off of his chest and off the volley, powered the ball into the back of the net with his right foot, 2-3.
When asked about the National Team call up, Moreno was of a split mind. “It’s kind of bittersweet you know. I want to do well with the team here and I’ll worry about the National team when it comes. We still have another game before I leave, so I’m just gonna look forward to that.”
For the first time in a long time, United looked like they might come back from a multiple-goal deficit to at the very least salvage a point. They continued to mount pressure and ask the questions of the Las Vegas keeper, Andre Zuluaga, coming ever closer to potentially pulling out a result. In the 89th minute, United worked their way into a corner and as the ball was recycled around, it fell to Harry Swartz on the left wing. Swartz found Will Seymore near the corner of the area and gave him an opportunity to make some magic. Dancing toward the top of the box Seymore loaded the ball onto his right foot and went far post, around the keeper to find the equalizer, and a point for United, 3-3.
After the match, Coach Eric Quill was quite on point about the performance of the club. “Case in point, we score a goal and off the kickoff, they go through us. Ford makes a big-time save that becomes a corner kick, then they score a goal. This is where we got the game wrong. We’ve got to buckle down when we score a goal and have a big-time mentality that says we’re going to go for a second. We’ve got to have a fortress mentality to keep pushing and not let a team who’s now against it change the course of the game.”
Questionable refereeing decisions from the man in the center didn’t deter United from showing the grit they would need throughout the night and going forward if the club is able to push themselves back above the playoff line. At the end of the night, United still sat 9th in the standings, but closed the gap to two points on 8th place El Paso.
Player of the Match
Amando Moreno – After getting the nod for the El Salvador National Team, it only felt right that Moreno should have a big night. Two goals helped power United to a crucial point when it seemed like all was lost on the night. Moreno’s toughness, after taking several hard fouls is what is needed of a veteran player in this type of situation.
United closes out their homestand this weekend as they welcome in Charleston Battery. Battery are securely in the playoffs and United is still hunting for crucial points. Coverage of the match on Saturday begins at 6 p.m. with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pregame show on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.. The coverage continues with Adam and Andy bringing every minute of every play beginning at 7 p.m. on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.