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.

This is going to be one of those seasons where we look back on it and go, ‘Man, that was one wild year.’ With any luck, we won’t have to deal with any more roster issues. The schedule on the other hand…. that very well could just get thrown out the window. Around the league, matches have been postponed since the restart due to positive COVID-19 tests. United hasn’t had to face that, but they have had to deal with the continuing public health orders issued by Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham.

Prior to this week, the club had announced that previously scheduled matches on July 29 and August 8 would have to be moved or rescheduled for a later date. With the extension of the public health orders to now last through August, supporters need to prepare themselves for the very real possibility that United won’t have a single home match this year. This is unfortunate, not only because SUNcast won’t be able to give you some really cool content we had planned, but also because we’re stuck with the sometimes less than stellar away broadcasters on ESPN+. I for one was looking forward to hearing the call by Tyler Ortega live from The Lab.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the August 15 clash against Colorado get postponed or have the location changed in the coming days, so keep an eye on your news feeds.

The good news for United, and we talked about it on the podcast this week is that the club isn’t a stranger to being on the road. Last season United had two stretches where they were on the road for nearly a month at a time, and a third where they were gone for nearly two months. More so than other clubs, United should be prepared for the mental stress that comes with not being at their home field for extended periods of time. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for them though.

It’s probably also a positive that they don’t have to travel anywhere near the same distances they did last year. Minnesota, we love you, but you’re just too far away. Same goes for the Pacific Northwest clubs.

Twelve matches remain for United as they hunt for their second playoff appearance in club history. Tonight the journey continues at a pitch that United played well on last season, Taft Stadium. Home to OKC Energy FC (1-1-2), United stormed the pitch the last time they were there, nearly a year ago now, and walked out with a 3-1 victory. Chris Wehan and Devon Sandoval were the stars of that match, and very well could be again tonight.

Unfortunately, Sandoval is not available for the match this weekend, but there are still plenty of capable players that can step up. The club will also have to deal with absences from David Najem, Sam Hamilton, and Justin Schmidt as well. With all the injuries, we could see a somewhat different formation from the club. Here’s my prediction:

Projected XI vs OKC Energy FC

The injury to Dev could be a good thing in disguise. We’ve talked about how close Amando Moreno and Romeo Parkes are to finding a breakthrough. Without Dev in the lineup, we could see both of them start out up top, with one potentially playing more of a false 9 or set up role. More chances on goal means they have a greater opportunity to net that first goal in the yellow and black.

Defensively, I don’t predict any changes to the XI this week. The guys performed well last time out and maintaining continuity through injury will benefit the club in the long run.

OKC Energy is facing some injuries of their own heading into the weekend. There is a very real possibility that they will be without Omar Gordon, Ray Saari, Cordell Cato, and Kodai Iida, all having picked up minor injuries. OKC remains a club very capable of scoring though, having signed Jaime Chavez in the offseason.

Much like El Paso, OKC likes to play out of the back and maintain possession. While that style performed better in the second match between El Paso and New Mexico, Troy Lesesne’s high press eventually got the better of their opponents. If OKC can avoid making the same mistakes, they could surprise United.

OKC is solid at the back, this year being anchored by C.J. Cochran so far. After backing up Cody Laurendi for much of last year, Cochran has stepped into the spotlight and performed well so far this year. With only 5 goals allowed through their first four matches, Cochran has Energy FC in a position to have very solid year.

Players to Watch

Romeo Parkes – Parkes seems to be finding a level of comfort on the pitch with his new teammates and nearly opened his account last week in El Paso. Tonight is a big opportunity for Parkes to do that again and could feature up top for Lesene.

Frank Lopez – the Cuban made his way to OKC in the offseason after playing in San Antonio for the 2019 campaign. He did find the back of the net against United last year and is a tremendous signing for the club. Quick on the ball, Lopez could potentially have a great night if he is able to get service around the box.

Saturday night’s match is scheduled for a 6 p.m. (Mountain) kickoff from Taft Stadium. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ and can be heard locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM or via The TEAM app and website. There will also be a spanish language broadcast on La Zeta 106.3 FM.