New Mexico United is going to hope that their next win-or-go-home match doesn’t go exactly the same way as the last one. They’ll gladly take a win over rivals Phoenix Rising in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, but they’ll want to do it without the pair of red cards they saw against Louisville City last weekend.
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between the two clubs. Almost every match has been a gritty, physical affair, save a drubbing that Unite laid on Rising during the “COVID game” in 2022. This time out, both clubs are fighting to better their standings in the Western Conference. Rising is looking for points to try and steal a home playoff game. United meanwhile, is hoping to backdoor their way into the playoffs themselves.
Rising is not the club that United faced earlier in the season. At the time of the first meeting, Rising came into the week winless in four straight. This time come in having drawn four of five, but in a significantly better position than they were before. Manuel Arteaga and Danny Trejo have turned their seasons around and led the way for Rising to climb back toward the top of the West. While the attack has been the most promising part of Rising, their defense has been suspect at times.
Despite the improvements over the past month or two, the defense continues to suffer from the same issues as they have all season. Pace has been their undoing. Any time they’ve faced a club with pace, they find themselves running at their own goal. This is where United can beat them. If Rising has to turn their backs, United can find areas between the defenders and force bad choices out of them.
Player to Watch
Danny Trejo – It should go without saying that one of the men chasing down the Golden Boot is the man to watch. Trejo was promising in his time with Las Vegas but never found his mark in the MLS. Now, he’s back in the USL and leading the attack for Rising. They’re better with him in the lineup and United will have to find a way to deal with his pace and creativity.
United is on the verge of their season going one of two ways. A loss and their season is all but done. A win, and there’s still hope.
“It’s a long season and we’ve got one more home game, one more road game,” said United President and CEO Peter Trevisani during his exclusively weekly segment on TEAM Talk on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM. “There’s so much on the line. If we win this game (against Phoenix) we can’t be eliminated on the road.”
This is becoming an annual occurrence for United. The season coming down to the wire and the club needs wins and help. On paper, a 2-0 win over a competitor like Lou City seems like it would be a positive thing. And while it should be, United has to face Rising FC without Nicky Hernandez and Shanyder Borgelin. Hernandez will be more missed of the pair after the season he’s had since coming to United. From his role in the midfield, he would have been able to force the issue against the back line of Rising. Without him, the job would fall to Amando Moreno and Sergio Rivas. Both have been better in the second half of the season of running at defenses and when they do, it creates opportunities for United, which is what they need against Rising.
Last season, Will Seymore was able to keep Danny Trejo in his pocket during a match in Las Vegas. The knowledge of how to shut him down is there, but the idea of him running beside Manuel Arteaga creates a whole new set of issues for United. How the club will contain both of them will require the centrebacks to stay home and not give up their positioning. Clearance at the back will need to be better as well in order to relieve the pressure that United will inevitably face.
Player to Watch
Sergio Rivas – Without Hernandez, Rivas will be an integral part of what United will need to do to pick up the win. Rivas has to be the playmaker from the midfield. In order to get him going, watch for United to get him involved deeper on the pitch, which will allow him to run at the backline of Rising. If he can do that, and keep his head up, he’ll have opportunities to find Moreno and others.
Coverage of Saturday’s match between United and Rising will begin with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pregame show on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM at 7:30 p.m. The duo continue the coverage at 8:30 with kickoff and bring every minute of every play on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.