Bold return to Albuquerque for another shot at United

The 2021 USL Championship season hasn’t even made it a quarter of the way through the schedule. Yet, the Mountain Division is already shaping up to be one of the most competitive across the entire league. Through six and a half weeks of play, four of the clubs have hit double digits in points; the most of any division.

While there have been some early season surprises, such as the emergence of RGV as a potential contender, by and large the perennials are stepping up. If the season continues along that path, we’re going to be in for a lot of fun during the playoff push.

Before we get there though, there’s the small matter of the remaining 26 matches.

The first of those is United’s first rematch of the season against Austin Bold FC. Bold’s prior visit just so happened to be United’s home opener, and that didn’t go well for the visitors. In front of their home fans for the first time since October of 2019, United put on a commanding performance and cruised to an easy victory.

Right now, the biggest problem that Austin has is that they don’t have a serious scoring threat. Sure, they have J.J. Johnson and Stefano Pinho, but neither of them have stepped up. To this point in the season, only one offensive player has scored a goal for the Bold. Unless something changes soon, that could spell disaster as the season wears on.

Austin isn’t without hope though. Their defensive efforts have resulted in only five goals being scored against them this season. Three of those were, of course, from United. In the four matches since, they’ve been on of the better defenses in the division and allowed only two goals.

The core of their defense, Fabien Garcia and Gustavo Rissi, has been a dynamic duo in the defensive half. Together, the pair has combined for 49 clearances, 22 interceptions, and 63 duels won. They will be responsible for marking and preventing whoever is up top for United from getting chances inside the box.

Player to Watch

Stefano Pinho – Despite not scoring yet since putting on the Bold jersey, Pinho is a threat any time he is on the pitch. The former NASL Golden Boot winner has yet to find his form, but that could change at any time.

New Mexico United on the other hand has no shortage of goalscorers. Six different players have contributed to the eight goals United have tallied so far this season. Amando Moreno and Sergio Rivas currently lead the club with two each, and will be looking to add to that on Saturday night.

Defensively, it could be argued that United is better than Austin. They’ve played one more game and allowed five goals since the beginning of the season. It would be easy to point to the play of Kalen Ryden and Austin Yearwood as the primary reason why United has been successful thus far. In truth though, a lot of it falls to Alex Tambakis. The Greek Wall has stopped 77% of the shots he has faced so far. Now, I believe that the stats on the league’s website only take into account the shots on target for that percentage. Alex’s defensive contributions go beyond just what happens between the sticks though. From aligning the defense to plays outside of the box, he’s been a key signing so far this year.

Projected XI vs Austin Bold FC

In order to pick up another three points at The Lab, United will have to continue to play solid at the back. By limiting the chances for a club that already has issues scoring, it should be another walk in the park.

Player to Watch

JPG – This one is for Earl. Over the past two matches, JPG hasn’t featured in the match day squad and something has felt a little lacking. For me, it’s JPG. While he’s known more for his defensive play, his distribution has been stellar this year. Of the outfield players, JPG leads the club in passing accuracy and passing accuracy in the opponents’ half. With JPG on the team sheet, the club sees more creativity in the attacking half and is more productive.

Saturday night’s match is scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. (MDT) from The Lab. Anyone not in attendance can view the match live on ESPN+. The match will also be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, or website. SiriusXM listeners can also hear the match live on SiriusXM FC (Channel 157) with coverage starting at 7 p.m.