While the playoffs have officially started, this Friday’s match against Memphis 901 FC will, for all intents and purposes, be the first-ever home playoff match in New Mexico United’s history. While they’ve somehow managed to notch wins in each of their last two outings, this one makes it official. If United wins, they’re in.
While United is hoping that Blackout Night helps build the feeling that The Lab is a fortress, the visitors will be hoping that they can find at least a point on the road. If they can do that, they’ll guarantee themselves a home playoff match once the post-season properly starts. They’re in pretty good shape to do it too, having won three of five and in those three wins, scored twelve goals against some of the top teams in the league. Consistency has been the key to their season and that’s something that United has only been able to strive for.
The key for Memphis in this is whether or not they can keep up the intensity in the attacking third. They’ve gone through spurts this season where scoring has been non-existent. They lack a clear second option to complement Rodrigo da Costa, but they have fought through that at times to pick up the results they needed. They’re not unbeatable, but they will be a tough opponent for United.
Player to Watch
Aaron Molloy – Box-to-box midfielders sometimes go overlooked because they don’t hit the stat sheet. Molloy does all the things you want out of a midfielder, except score. 7 assists and 74 chances created mean that he’s the engine that drives things forward. United will need to slow him down at the lab in order to reduce the chances Memphis has at The Lab.
“So much credit to Coach and the players, they played a great game,” said United President and CEO Peter Trevisani speaking exclusively on TEAM Talk on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM when asked about the win against Rising. “They were doing the little things that make a big difference. This was a sweet one to get in our column.”
Trevisani isn’t wrong. United picked up the first-ever win over Rising in Phoenix and have put themselves in a position to control their own destiny. After an up-and-down season, this is the best the club could have hoped for. After two big games and one more in front of them, there’s always the concern that the emotions get the better of them, but in a testy match against their Rivals, United kept their composure for the most part. Now, the club seems to be the most comfortable they’ve been all year and that could bode well for the Black & Yellow on Friday.
“We had already planned on it being Blackout Night, no matter what. It really is a home playoff game for all intents and purposes,” continued Trevisani. “[Bringing in] Andrew has paid huge dividends. He’s aggressive in the net and takes control of the game.”
Andrew Thomas has been a key part of why United is in the position they are. Thomas has earned the respect of his teammates and the adoration of the fans. Not only that, but Arturo Astorga has done really well in helping to anchor a defensive unit that has struggled to maintain consistency in their positioning. The additions and improved play have allowed United to limit the goals conceded and pick up two clean sheets in recent outings. The compact nature of the defense that Eric Quill sent out on Saturday will be needed once again to prevent the visitors from getting the chances they are used to seeing.
Player to Watch
Nicky Hernandez – Returning from his suspension after picking up multiple yellow cards against Louisville City, United will lean on Hernandez in the midfield. Even since joining the club, his position and role have changed some, but his contributions continue to be seen week after week. Hernandez will be needed in the midfield to counter Molloy and be the engine that United needs.
The Friday night regular-season finale gets underway with the pregame show at 6 p.m. with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps. At the conclusion of the pregame show, the pair will bring every minute of every play with kickoff starting at 7 p.m. on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.