United looks for early season win over rival Phoenix Rising

United looks for early season win over rival Phoenix Rising

A promising start to the season for New Mexico United has quickly turned into questions about what is going on with the midfield. After two less-than-impressive performances against Rhode Island FC and Charleston Battery, the Black and Yellow have a chance to finish out their first road trip of the season with a win against an underperforming Phoenix Rising FC.

Like many other clubs, Rising underwent a great deal of change in the offseason. They perhaps, along with Pittsburgh, underwent some of the most drastic changes in the attacking third across the USL. Danny Trejo and Manuel Arteaga both left, taking with them nearly half of the offensive production that Rising generated in 2023. They did manage to keep Emil Cuello under club control for another year, providing them with a means to get the ball forward during the new campaign.

Much like 2023, they started 2024 winless in the first handful of matches but finally picked up their first with a 1-0 over Oakland Roots on the 23rd. Goal generation has been an issue in the early going, but with the departures to be expected as the new roster tries to figure things out.

Defensively, they’ve been cleaner than at the start of 2023, and keeping Rocco Rios Novo between the sticks will be a big factor in how their season goes. After bursting onto the scene with Atlanta United 2, Rios Novo made the move to Phoenix and has continued to grow and develop at a high level. He’s become a leader for Rising and his ability to command the defense will greatly benefit his side throughout the season, especially against a New Mexico side that has struggled in its previous two outings.

Player to Watch

Emil Cuello – Cuello is Rising’s version of Marco Micaletto. Cuello can push the ball forward at a turn and put his forwards in a place to be dangerous. Watch for the midfield control to be the battlefield of choice for these two sides and Cuello can change the pace.

United looked dominant in week one against Pittsburgh. Since then the Riverhounds have gone winless, and that win is starting to look a bit less impressive. Pair that with the showings against Rhode Island and Charleston, and there are early questions starting to fester.

Where has Kalen Ryden been? The club captain was a late scratch two weeks ago and wasn’t in the 18 against Charleston. Which seemed to have precipitated a change to a three-at-the-back system. Why was there a change a keeper, seeing Kris Shakes get the start on the road? Is there an injury concern with Alex Tambakis? These questions went unanswered last weekend.

Tactically, United looked out of sorts in both matches, struggling at times to get the ball forward and changing systems from week to week. The highly touted midfield of United was unable to control the middle of the park in either match while the defense was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball. Both of these situations contributed to dropped points against Rhode Island and the loss to Battery.

Against Rising, the trio of Micaletto, Nicky Hernandez, and Sergio Rivas need to take control early. These three can control the center of the pitch and get United forward. These three are the links that will unlock opportunities for Greg Hurst. No matter which system Eric Quill asks of his club, the midfield needs to work to create space and pick areas of the pitch to deliver the ball through. Rising can be beaten off the shoulder and through the gaps between defenders. That’s where the ball needs to be for United to be successful on Saturday.

Player to Watch

Talen Maples – The young centreback has shown potential to step in and take over a starting role. That doesn’t mean he’s been perfect, but he’s shown the ability to recover and make outlet passes to break some of the pressure that United has been facing.

United and Rising square off against each other on Saturday night from Phoenix Rising Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman will be on-site at Rising Stadium to bring live coverage of the match. Pregame coverage begins at 7:30 PM (MT) followed by kickoff at 8:30 PM. Catch every minute of every game live on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.