Seven matches remain as United look to stretch their lead

Seven matches remain as United look to stretch their lead

I don’t know about anyone else, but this year’s season has gone by in a flash. To be completely honest, it feels like it was just a week ago that New Mexico United returned to the pitch. It feels like we were all just trying to figure out our predictions for the 2020 season. Yet, here we are only seven matches away from the playoffs.

We’ve become intimately familiar with each of our Group C opponents and to be completely honest it’s gotten kind of hard to write about them. At times it feels like we’re just rehashing the same content from preview to preview. That’s especially true when the “Group of Death” is nowhere near as competitive as people, including us, thought it would be. Sure there’s enough time for things to change drastically in the standings, but the odds of that happening aren’t great.

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Surprising MVP all the way to a super fan look alike, these mid season superlatives have it all

Surprising MVP all the way to a super fan look alike, these mid season superlatives have it all

 It’s the halfway point of this abbreviated season and a gentleman by the name of David Talbot threw out the idea for some mid-season awards and I want to thank him for that because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. This season has been interesting. We had a loss on the road then had to wait 18 week for a chance to redeem ourselves. Which we did, in a big way. With 5 wins since the restart and only one draw and one loss sees us sitting on top of our group 5 clear ahead of El Paso. 

   New faces have produced and our returning players have shown last year wasn’t a fluke so let’s talk about that and a few more things. 

Offensive Player 

Let’s start with an exciting one. There are a few choices here that are intriguing but it’s gotta be Chris Wehan. 5 goals since the restart and that’s with sitting out the last match. Throw in an assist and a team leading 11 chances created it’s easy to see why he is the offensive player of the mid season. 

  Best Quarantine Look

    I gotta go with David Estrada doing his best impression of our good friend and leader of los cursitos, Xavier Obando. David let his hair and beard grow during the quarantine and I love it! Professional athletes are just like us over the quarantine period. 

Defensive Player

Photo Courtesy RSL Monarchs

It has to go to the team leader in clearances, blocks, and interceptions and that’s the new face on the back line, Kalen Ryden. Kalen has brought a championship pedigree along with tremendous talent from Real Monarchs and it’s showing in the stat sheet and results. Last year through 35 matches if you include the playoff match we had a total of 4 clean sheets and an average goals against of 1.7 per game. This year with Kalen playing in all 8 matches we have had a total of 3 clean sheets and an average of 1.3 goals against per match. That drops to a .71 if you take out the Phoenix match which is being proven as an anomaly. He has been an incredible presence on that back line and has helped lead a drastic change in our defense. 

     Best Podcast Appearance

The 3 Honest Lads podcast is a great usl podcast where broadcasters Mike Watts and Devon Kerr let their hair down and tell us how they really feel. In their last episode they had Las Cruces native Josh Suggs on. Now Suggs got in a little bit of trouble last year for some comments on the Cursecast last year so he was a little more careful about what he said but he opened up about a lot of things including the process of joining New Mexico United. 

Best New Face

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

This one is by far the toughest but I’m gonna go with Amando Moreno. He is tied with Wehan with 11 chances created albeit in one more appearance, he also has a team leading 3 assists and is tied with Devon Sandoval for second on the team with 2 goals. That goal number is sure to rise as he has found his confidence after missing a few early chances. His energy is unmatched on the pitch. He flies around everywhere and has been solid when we opt to high press. Kalen was obviously in the running here as was another gentleman who will be mentioned shortly. 

Best Keeper

Well there isn’t much competition here but I wanted to talk about Cody Mizell a little bit. The defensive numbers mentioned above show that the back line and Cody are doing outstanding as a unit but what role has Cody played in that? A large one that’s for sure. We all hear him on the broadcast supporting his back line after they come up with a big play or helping them get in position in front of him which is huge for a team. He also has a solid percentage of 64.3. Throw in some highlight reel saves and those awesome keeper kits and Cody has been on top of his game this season. 

Best Goal

This might be the easiest of them all. No offense to any of Wehan’s goals or Moreno’s chip last week, but this one goes to the absolute banger from Saalih Muhammad. We all remember it and I encourage you to watch it again and again but I’ll do my best to describe it in all of its glory. It started with Dev making a well timed run and receiving the ball behind the back line of Colorado Springs. On his first touch he tried to beat the keeper but Melvin made a great save and sent the ball flying back towards midfield. That’s where Saalih was waiting and he struck it on the volley so pure that I’m surprised the back of the net could contain it. I’m still left breathless every time I watch that goal and can’t believe that it didn’t win goal of the month, sorry Dev. 

Most Underrated

Daniel Bruce has been incredible this year in ways that go largely unnoticed. He has played all over the pitch including on the back line. He has gotten way more minutes this year then in the early part of last year because he keeps doing the little things. His stats don’t jump of the page by any means, no goals or shots and only one assist, but he has several “hockey assists” and has made hustle play after hustle play on both sides of the ball. I know last year we fell in love with his energy and attaching abilities but this year he is a well rounded player that is doing whatever it takes to help the collective. 

 Most likely to improve over the second half

Photo Credit: Phoenix Rising FC

There really haven’t been that many players that aren’t playing well right now but I will cheat for the first time in this article and mention 2 names here. First let’s start with another new face, Romeo Parkes. Parkes has had chance after chance to put the ball in the back of the net and has only found it once. That was the beautiful header from outside the box against Phoenix. Those shots will eventually start finding the back of the net though. Romeo’s goal scoring prowess is there. He has scored goals everywhere he has played and here will be no different. Next is Rashid Tetteh. Tetteh has been injured most of the season, making only 3 appearances and playing a total of 74 minutes. While he has struggled in those minutes I believe he will get back to the old Tetteh from last year. We have seen glimpses of last year’s Tetteh but I think he might have come back a little too soon. Watch for him to work his way back into the starting line up, making an already good back line even better. 

Best player with wood in his name

Alright you caught me. This is really just an award to talk about Austin Yearwood. This back line was decimated to begin the restart. David Najem and Josh Suggs were injured. Manny Padilla was released from the team. Tetteh missed time. Justin Schmidt is probably done for the year. Other than Ryden and Mizell, Austin has the most minutes played on the team. Austin has been in the lineup for all three of the clean sheets. He had the second most clearances and the second most interceptions. Austin won a spot on the usl team of the week following our clean sheet against Colorado Springs last weekend. He and Kalen have held it down in the back and that needs to be recognized. 

Shout outs

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

There are a few players I haven’t mentioned yet that I want to shout out. Sam Hamilton has been a great asset to this team with his versatility and defending. While he doesn’t have the minutes that Ryden and Yearwood have he still has contributed to the three clean sheets. Ryan Williams and Juan Guzman have been rock solid in the midfield which often gets overlooked. The midfield play leads to better defending and more chances to score. This club features 2 rookies who have both looked good in the limited playing time they have had. Joris Ahlinvi has a start and scored a goal. Samson Sergi has come on as a sub in 5 matches and looked big and fast up top. 

Best Albuquerque Native

Devon Sandoval was the first signing. He scored the first goal and is the local boy everyone loves and for good reason. Devon brings so much to this club on and off the pitch, it’s hard to put a value on him. He’s strong and skilled on the pitch and community driven and caring off of it. He’s the perfect teammate and leader for this club and community and we don’t deserve him. 

MVP

Photo Credit: New Mexico United

There is one name that I have been raving about the last month that I haven’t mentioned in this article. The MVP could be any number of players including Wehan or Ryden I have to go with midfielder from New Jersey, Andrew Tinari. Now I know this is going to be controversial but please hear me out. Tinari has only one goal this season along with zero assists but he does have at least 3 hockey assists. His defense in the midfield has started several attacks for us. He rarely makes mistakes yet causes turnover after turnover on the other side of the ball. What he does on the defensive side is what sticks out to me. He leads the team in tackles, is second in tackles won and is fourth in duels won. All from a 5’6” midfielder. His distribution is huge as well. His 79.8% passing accuracy doesn’t jump off the page, it’s lower than some others because he is constantly going forward. He has been the most complete player on the pitch and has directly impacted our offense while also being a huge reasons for the turn around on defense this year. For those reasons he is my mid season Most Valuable Player. 

United go for three in a row in Herriman

United go for three in a row in Herriman

Sometimes it’s hard to admit when you make a mistake. I think it’s time I own up to one. I made a mistake in my preview of Wednesday’s match. I was off the mark with my projected team sheet. 

I fully expected Troy to put out our best XI and take it to the defending champs in what amounts to the first match of a doubleheader. I’m sure many expected to see Devon Sandoval and Chris Wehan carry the load once again. But Troy had other ideas in mind. While the club didn’t exactly take it to Real Monarchs SLC in that match, the team that was on the pitch performed above the expectations of many. 

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United take on defending champs Real Monarchs SLC

I’m a stats guy. Numbers and data, especially when it comes to sports are some of the most intriguing stuff to me. My parents like to tell a story of how when I was three, I would read off the sports stats to them. Maybe that’s why I spend a lot of time following the guys over at 538 and looking at their club soccer predictions.

I may not understand all the formulas they use, but I understand their purpose. I wish they would go deeper into actual statistical categories. Honestly, they would probably be one of the better resources as far as that goes. But for now, we’ll just look at their club predictions.

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United set to defend their Northern Territory against Switchbacks FC

It’s safe to assume that most sports fans believe in home-field advantage. No matter what sport, there’s something about being in your home stadium and in front of friendly supporters that generates extra energy for everyone present. Whether its the home crowd cheering on a closer who is going for that final out, the Cameron Crazies trying to distract an opposing free throw shooter or the parents and friends of the local high school team; there’s nothing like playing in front of a home crowd.

Even sites like 538, who do predictions for most of the major football leagues factors in home-field advantage. Given the changes at most venues for this season, they’ve decreased the weight it lends to their formulas by 60%.

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Rivalry Renewed: United face off against Phoenix Rising FC

Rivalries are one of the defining characteristics of sports. Often they are determined by geographic location, fervent fan bases or sometimes are conceived as a marketing ploy by leagues to sell tickets (looking at you MLS). No matter what their origins are, they quite often make for the best games to watch.

New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising FC are no different. Their encounters in 2019 were nothing short of epic, back and forth affairs with neither being able to best the other. Well, until the Open Cup that is. Ask a Rising supporter and they’ll say the Cup result was a draw. Pose the same question to a United supporter and they’ll say that the outcome was a win for United. Technically the result went into the books as a draw, but for argument sake, we’re calling it a win.

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King’s of Group C

  We have been waiting for this. Since the restart United has played some really good football, A 2-1 win in Colorado Springs, a 2-2 draw in El Paso, and a 2-1 win in El Paso. But they hadn’t put it all together for a full 90 minutes. Until tonight. That’s a bad sign for the rest of Group C by the way. 

     The first 25 minutes or so were pretty even in terms of possession and control, and yes those are 2 different things. Then in the 30’ United won a throw in on the far side of the field. Wehan threw it in and 8 United players ended up touching the ball on the way to a goal. Kalen Ryden played a beautiful long ball to the feet of Daniel Bruce who lost control briefly but was able to chase it down and get it to Wehan, who gave it right back to Bruce. Romeo Parkes came along at the top of the box and received it from Bruce and played a through ball for Chris Wehan on a great diagonal run. Wehan squared the ball across the box and Amando Moreno opened his account with United by chesting it into the back of the net.  This may be my goal of the season from the club. It was a perfect team goal. 

     Then second before half time my preseason MVP pick, Wehan, added to his stat sheet for the match with a goal of his own. It came off a turnover created by the pressure of Andrew Tinari, more on him in a bit. Moreno got on the loose ball and quickly got it ahead to Parkes, who started up top in place of Devon Sandoval. Parkes used some fancy footwork to get the ball just inside the near corner of the box and then used his big body to keep it there while he waited for help. The help came in the form of Bruce. He came streaking past Romeo who delivered a cheeky pass which Bruce quickly squared it to a wide open Wehan on the back post and he powered it past the keeper and into the back of the net. 

The second half saw OKC keep a lot of possession. They ended the first half with a 56% to 44% lead in possession and only expanded that in the second half as they tried to erase a 2 goal deficit. But this is where possession and control really begin to show their differences. Even with OKC possessing the ball the majority of the second half they were never in control. The few chances they had were not of a high quality. 48 minutes into the second half it was still 2-0 until the young United rookie from France, Joris Ahlinvi, opened his professional account. After earning a free kick just outside the box he lined up a shot. It was terrible. It never got close to getting over the wall but fell right back to him and he capitalized on the second chance. His low shot found its way through the defenders and past the diving keeper into the lower left corner of the goal. 

From start to finish this match was never in doubt. The defense looked drastically improved and aside from a missed penalty kick that was awarded from a soft penalty in the first place there weren’t any real threats all night. Cody made a few saves but none were as challenging as last week’s. All in all this was the most complete performance of the season and possibly the young life of the club. 

3 Things 

  1. This has to start with Chris Wehan. Wehan has now scored in 4 straight matches since the restart of the season. He also added an assist to his stat sheet tonight and while not an official stat he has a couple of, what I call, hockey assists. Which means his pass led to the pass that led to the goal. He also has been a pesky defender in the high press and has forced several turnovers. All of this is really just for me to toot my own horn and say that I picked him as my MVP this season. 
  2. The new guys. Armando Moreno finally found the back of the net tonight as did Joris. Andrew Tinari has been spectacular in the midfield this season. His passing and defense have led to a lot of chances for United. Then there was Romeo. After a few matches out on the wing he finally got his chance up top. He should never play on the wing again after seeing him tonight. He was dangerous up there with his hold up play, which led to a goal, and his speed and skill almost led to 2 more had he been able to get a finishing touch on either of his chances. 
  3. D-fence! A clean sheet! Finally! We should have had one last week but thanks to a missed PK, a few solid saves, and a great defensive effort from the whole team we got it this week. Muhammad looked great again as a Center Back and we saw the restart debut of Rashid Tetteh as he came on in the second half and looked awesome as usual. Really top to bottom the whole club had a solid defensive night and should be proud of themselves. If the last 2 matches prove to be real from a defensive perspective then the league needs to look out. 

United look to continue undefeated streak against OKC Energy FC

This time last year we were starring to look ahead to the playoffs and trying to figure out all the possibilities that faced New Mexico United (2-1-1). This year, the season is only a quarter of the way done and there’s even less certainty than before.

From restarts to postponements, dismissals and even more schedule changes, there have been a number of distractions thrown at the club. To their credit though, they’ve taken them all in stride and come out the better for it. Maybe at some point, Jacob and I will sit down and do a ‘What If…’ column and try to predict what would have happened in a normal year.

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