New Mexico United is just barely hanging onto hope for a playoff berth. The statistics website fivethirtyeight.com currently gives them a 21% chance to even make the playoffs, a far cry from where they were just a few short weeks ago.
United’s schedule was thought to be favorable after having the majority of the second half at home. Unfortunately, the clubs they face have been staking their claims to playoff spots and have made it incredibly hard on United to pick up points. This weekend is no different as United goes to Birmingham to take on Legion FC, who are hoping to cement their spot in the Eastern Conference.
Legion had been one of the better sides in the East, but with two consecutive losses, their once solid standing has slipped to the point of being just five points clear. Their roster is full of veteran players who know what it takes to finish out that playoff push. The biggest concern for United on Sunday will be the forwards of Legion FC. Three names will be very familiar to the United faithful; Neco Brett, Preston Tabort-Etaka, and Prosper Kasim. Tabort-Etaka and Brett both spent time with United and were underwhelming in their time in the Duke City.
It later came out that Brett was dealing with injuries during his time here. It was also clear that when he was here, Tabort-Etaka did not gel with Kevaughn Frater, and did not return for a second season. Both players have improved in their time away from Albuquerque and are performing well for Legion. The pace and ability to move off the ball by both will cause issues for United this weekend that will have to be dealt with.
Player to Watch
The goalkeeper – Neither of Legion’s keepers has been spectacular this season. Between Matt Van Oekel and Trevor Spangenberg, the duo has conceded 47 goals putting them at a -9 goal differential on the season. When they’ve been good, they’re among the best, but more often than not, they’ve put their club in a tough position. Against a United side that has struggled at times to score, whoever gets the nod could be in for a great night, or a bad one.
United is running out of opportunities to pick up points. After the homestand saw them pick up only four points from four matches, the club is fortunate to even be in the playoff conversation. Results around the West, particularly from Switchbacks and El Paso, have kept United within striking distance. The only question is whether or not they have enough to over the line.
Amando Moreno will be missing for this match as he is away on international duty with El Salvador, but there’s no telling who will be there to fill in. Sergio Rivas will return from a yellow card accumulation suspension, Daniel Bruce may be back from injury, and Chris Wehan may be ever closer to inching his way back into the team sheet after his broken kneecap. Whoever is on the teamsheet on Sunday, they’ll have to control the midfield and look for opportunities to play the ball forward and be creative with it. If United can break into the attacking third, they could have a big night against keepers that have struggled throughout the year.
Player to Watch
Sergio Rivas – Returning from an accumulation suspension, Rivas could be the spark for United. He’s been seen dropping deeper and driving the ball at defenders. This allows Rivas to be in positions to create either for himself or others. He has the ability to draw attention and get in between defenders on or off the ball.
Sunday’s game has been rescheduled to kickoff at 4:30 p.m. MT. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+. There will be no radio coverage of this match due to NFL programming on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM.