It was improbable until it wasn’t. After putting together one of the best runs of form they’ve had all season, New Mexico United is back in the playoffs. Their opponent is a familiar one. For the third time in five years, United will face off against Sacramento Republic FC on their home turf.
In each of the last two playoff meetings for these clubs Republic was able to eliminate United. In 2019, Republic advanced with a 2-1 win. That year, the clubs split the regular season series with a win apiece. In 2022, Republic advanced with a 2-0. In the regular season, Republic had the advantage with a win and a draw over United.
This season has gone in United’s favor when it comes to the series between the two sides. United walked away with a 3-0 win after the first meeting in July. The rematch in September was far more competitive as the sides each walked away with a point, and likely feeling it was a missed opportunity. Both clubs are coming into the playoffs in similar form, each having won three of five. The quality of opponents faced though, may have United better prepared.
Republic has been riding high on the play of Russell Cicerone up top and Danny Vitiello between the sticks. Top to bottom, Republic is one of the most consistent clubs in the league, and their performance against United in July can be seen as a bit of an anomaly. They are very good through the midfield and don’t give opponents many chances to get through on them. If they win the midfield, they could advance past United once again.
Player to Watch
Jack Gurr – Gurr is a player that seems to be able to do it all. A box-to-box midfielder, he’s shown the ability to adapt to whatever he is being given. United will need to contain him if they want to advance.
United comes into the match riding a massive wave of momentum after three straight wins over playoff clubs. They have been playing with confidence and have managed to do the unthinkable. Three weeks ago, United was all but written off. But after wins over Louisville, Phoenix, and Memphis the Black & Yellow worked their way back into the playoff picture.
“You could just feel the stadium buzzing (on Friday night),” said United President and Owner Peter Trevisani in his exclusive weekly segment on TEAM Talk on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM. “The energy was the best its been all year and to get out on the front foot with a goal in the first few minutes, it just exploded.”
Trevisani of course was referring to the opening goal by Harry Swartz in the 4-1 win over Memphis 901 FC. That goal set the tone for Friday night and United continued to build momentum throughout the evening. United had lacked consistency throughout the season, but in the final few matches, they seem to be right where they want to be.
“Coach Quill has set the tone. Have a great week at practice and I’m gonna pick my guys that are getting it done for us,” continued Trevisani.
Say what you will about his methods, but Quill seems to have figured it out. In the last three games of the regular season, United notched eight goals while only conceding two and building confidence in the forwards. Greg Hurst is one player who has ground through the season and his work paid off against Memphis with a brace on two well-struck goals. Outside of Amando Moreno, the forwards have had much impact this season. The play in recent weeks of Hurst is promising as United looks to get past the opening round of the playoffs for the second time.
It could be argued that the more important aspect of the game for United against Republic this time around is the defense. The introduction of Arturo Astorga has helped to solidify a back line that had been weak at times. But with Astorga, United has only allowed three goals in five matches. The defense has been stifling and has shown a better aptitude for maintaining their compact shape, particularly in the goal area. Against Republic, United will look to keep them out of the area and force them into shooting from distance, which isn’t their forte.
Player to Watch
Zico Bailey – Another key pickup this season, Bailey has shown the ability to play across the pitch. Not only is he a great wide option for United, but he can be a second engine in the middle of the pitch. He’s relentless in his pursuit of the ball and could be a key for United in transition.
Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman kickoff the coverage on Saturday night with the pregame show at 7 p.m. followed by the first kick at 8 p.m. Every minute of every play can be heard live on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, or The TEAM apps.