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.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a numbers guy. Last season and this one, I created a spreadsheet to track the potential possible points for each club. I even had it to a point last season where you could plug in results and predict what could happen, similar to ESPN’s playoff predictor for the NFL. I haven’t quite gotten that far yet this season, but here’s where things stand and the best possible case scenario for each club should they win out.

As you can see, no one is truly out of the running within Group C, yet. I’ve done the same for each group in the USL and mathematically speaking, no has been eliminated from playoff contention. You heard that right. Even winless Portland Timbers II still has a chance, however unlikely it may be. By the end of next weekend we could see the first few clubs drop out of contention.

While Jacob and I both believe that the groups are for the most part set, anything is still possible. Obviously, all of the clubs won’t hit their possible points total. Everyone still has to play each other at least two more times and has at least one out of group match remaining. That being said, I believe that United will have a playoff spot mathematically secured before the RGV match next month. That may be the case even before the final match against the Switchbacks.

Speaking of the Switchbacks…

It’s just sad really. The state of Colorado lost the great chile war of 2019 and their club hasn’t beaten United in five attempts. The boys in yellow have unofficially become the owners of the state. Maybe someone should update their Wikipedia page to reflect that.

It has to be said that the Switchbacks are coming off of one of their better performances of the season. After falling behind 4-0 in the first half to Austin Bold FC, the Switchbacks stormed back and managed to pull out a draw from that match. While that result is most likely a fluke, it did show that Christian Volesky and George Lebese do in fact know where the net is.

To say that their season has been underwhelming may be an understatement. They showed a lot of promise at the end of the 2019 campaign and had hoped to make a serious statement in 2020. The quality of play on the pitch under Alan Koch has certainly improved and they do pass the eye test at times. But it hasn’t been enough. Six points through eight matches shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Looking at tonight’s match, don’t expect much different in terms of game plan from the Switchbacks. Aside from playing out of the back like they typically do, the only change that we may see is some rotation in their XI. Tonight marks the first of four matches for the hosts between now and September 9th.

United on the other hand will continue to do what they’ve always done; own Weidner Field. After a full week of rest, United should be more than ready for the task at hand. They’ve now won three league matches in a row for the first time in club history and are looking to extend that record. All the signs point to a high probability of that happening.

Aside from Justin Schmidt, United is healthy. They’ve adapted to playing every match on the road. They’ve bought into Troy’s system.

While he’s not the Golden Boot leader, Chris Wehan is having an MVP caliber season. Through eight matches, the man known as Beez has six goals, one assist and a couple hockey assists to boot. Not only is he a creator of chances, he’s come to play and has had his shooting boots on every week. To this point in the history of the club, I’d venture to say that Beez has been one of the top signings in terms of on the field ability and his demeanor off the pitch. If an MLS club doesn’t come calling this off-season, I’d be surprised.

Behind Beez, United has a number of players who have put their hats in the ring for Defensive Player of the Year. Kalen Ryden and Austin Yearwood have both helped this club develop tremendously and the proof is in the results. Three clean sheets from nine matches (one shy of matching last year’s total) and three fewer goals conceded in the same time frame as last season are all great signs for the club. All of this helps contribute to the success that the club has found this year.

United will continue to do what they always do on Saturday night. The good guys will employ their high press, they’re going to try and disrupt the ball movement from the Switchbacks, and they’re going to move the ball around looking for opportunities to get Beez, Devon Sandoval, and Amando Moreno scoring opportunities.

Our Prediction: United win

Saturday night’s match is scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff from Weidner Field. The match will be broadcast domestically on ESPN+ while international viewers can watch on YouTube. Locally the match can be heard on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, or website. Spanish language commentary can be heard on La Zeta 106.3 FM.