New Mexico United retain ownership of Colorado Springs

No one expected the return to play to go smoothly. Just imagine if you were forced out of work for four months then expected to return to full form from minute one. I don’t know any people that could do that. There’s always a transition period, a time where you are feeling things out and not necessarily hitting all your marks.

The first quarter-hour on the pitch at Weidner Field certainly wasn’t the same level of play that we would have seen without the break in play. The play on the pitch wasn’t the only thing that had a different look to it. Late injuries forced Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh from the team sheet and gave first starts of the year to Austin Yearwood and Sam Hamilton. Also unexpectedly absent was team captain Josh Suggs. 

Whether it was due to the changes, the long layoff, or a combination of both, United (1-1-0) came out and couldn’t quite find their footing. Fortunately for them, neither could Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (1-1-0). For much of the initial run of play, possession flipped back and forth several times in the midfield. 

It wasn’t until after the 20th minute that United was able to sniff the Switchbacks goal. As the clock rolled over to the 25th, Saalih Muhammad played a through ball up to a charging Devon Sandoval. Sandoval’s shot was blocked by Switchbacks keeper Sean Melvin. The save pushed the ball back out to the middle of the field, where Muhammad took a shot on the volley and rocketed the ball into the back of the net. The goal was the first of the season for both Muhammad and United. 

Much like United, the Switchbacks began to find their footing and the new-look attack of Christian Volesky and George Lebese led increased pressure into the final third. As the half drew to a close, Uvaldo Luna would put a shot off the crossbar, an omen of what was to come. Only moments later, with United unable to control the ball Aidan Daniels followed up with another shot from outside the box, this time caroming off the post and into the side net. 

That goal prior to the half seemed to give Colorado Springs a huge boost in confidence when play resumed for the second half. Although they trailed in possession, they were definitely on the front foot. Head Coach Troy Lesesne used the first of his five available subs in the 65th, bringing on Romeo Parkes and Andrew Tinari for Juan Pablo Guzman and Amando Moreno. The changes seemed to make a difference for United as they were calmer in possession.

Things looked to be going United’s way until just before the second water break of the match. In the 76th, Austin Dewing of the Switchbacks was able to work his way into the box, but put his shot well over the bar and out of play. That momentum carried over through the break when Lebese appeared to put the hosts ahead for the first time. In the slimmest of margins, the assistant referee ruled Lebese was offside and the goal was waved off. 

Now on the back foot, United needed to find a way to regain the momentum. They struggled a bit defensively, allowing Colorado Springs to find their way into the box multiple times. The Colorado attack would sputter each time, unable to find the net. 

In the 87th, Parkes would take possession in the midfield for United and play the ball ahead to Chris Wehan. Working his way to the right side of the box, Wehan would shoot back to the left and despite getting a hand on it, Melvin was unable to keep the ball out of the net as United retook the lead. 

United would hold on as Colorado Springs pushed for a late equalizer, to earn their first win of the season by a final of 2-1.

Man of the Match

While the match as a whole wasn’t pretty at times, United found a way to win on the road. It may end up being a season of away matches and it will take performances like those of Muhammad and Wehan in order to give United a chance to advance from the group. The duo is our co-men of the match for this week. 

Around the Group

Elsewhere in the group, Real Monarchs SLC fell to San Diego Loyal 1-0, and at the time of writing El Paso Locomotive FC and Rio Grande Valley Toros FC are deadlocked at 0-0. 

Up Next

With the win United move into a virtual tie with Colorado Springs within Group C. Although with tiebreakers, they may actually be in first. Currently, the USL Championship website shows United in second place.

Next on the schedule for New Mexico is a match against El Paso Locomotive FC. That match will take place on Wednesday, July 15 from Southwest Univesity Park in El Paso.