Amid Uncertainty, United’s Season continues in El Paso

We finally got back to the business of football two weeks ago. New Mexico United and their supporters were beyond excited for the season to restart. Although things seemed like they were on the upswing, even the soccer world isn’t immune to the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

We already knew that United would not allow fans in The Lab or UNM Soccer Complex, likely at all, this year. Then came the news that United may not even be able to play a home match this season. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, not only would visiting clubs be required to quarantine here for 14 days, but so would United. That would prevent any of the USL clubs from being able to come and go as necessary for match days.

That also means that United could be looking for a new temporary home. El Paso has been mentioned as a possibility and for the past week, United has been there training in between the two matches. You have to think that no matter where they are, if the club isn’t at home then the club is having to deal with increased expenses without the benefit of match day revenue.

As if that wasn’t enough, United was hit with the #MeToo movement. After the Colorado Springs match the news broke that Manny Padilla had been investigated for sexual assault during his time at the University of San Francisco. As a result of that, Padilla was suspended from all team activities indefinitely.

Oh, and then came the postponement of what was to be the first home match of the season as well as change of venue for others. At this time the first expected home match won’t be until August 8th, when United are to welcome Santi Moar and Phoenix Rising back to town.

With everything that is going on around the club, it’s easy to forget that they are undefeated since the restart. Sure it’s only been two matches, but Group C has been widely picked as quite possibly the most unpredictable across the USL.

United and El Paso Locomotive FC face off again on Friday for the second of four matches in the revamped 2020 schedule. Locomotive currently sit atop the group with five points with United and Colorado Springs both one point back. If the first match is any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a wild ride. Chris Wehan and Devon Sandoval both shook the net last week for United, while Omar Salgado and Andrew Fox did the same for El Paso.

United’s high press was a major factor in the early part of the first match and I wouldn’t be surprised if Troy Lesesne deployed it again on Friday. Utilizing that high press has allowed them to be more aggressive in parts of matches where they might have otherwise come out flat. As effective as it is, it’s not something that can be sustained for an entire match. United will need to offset the press by moving the ball around and working it towards their forwards.

Defensively, United are already showing some of the bad habits from last season. The biggest of which is an apparent ‘switching off’ at the end of each half. The most recent slip saw the club give up two goals and fall behind to El Paso. They need to clean that up and account for Omar Salgado and Dylan Mares at all times.

Player to Watch

Romeo Parkes – Romeo has the physicality necessary to take on the Locomotive defense. With skillful hold up play and the ability to pick out the right pass, he could be key to unlocking the defense on Friday.

El Paso got a little bit lucky with their goals on Wednesday. While both appeared to be off side, they were well worked and opportunistic. Mares was a terror for the United defense and was an integral part of a squad that is looking to replace Jerome Kiesewetter.

Defensively, don’t expect much, if anything different from El Paso in this match. They were highly effective at times and didn’t give United much to work with. Aside from an untimely penalty, the unit performed well enough for Locomotive to grab a victory.

Player to Watch

Dylan Mares – Mares has been a scorer at every stop he’s made in his career. After a very productive night out last time, Mares showed that he may be the true threat for Locomotive. While Salgado will garner a lot of attention, Mares should find himself a number of opportunities to go for goal.

Friday night’s match is set for a 7:30 pm (Mountain) kickoff from Southwest University Park. The match will be broadcast domestically on ESPN+ while international viewer can watch on YouTube. Locally, the match can be heard on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM and via The TEAM app.