United take on defending champs Real Monarchs SLC

I’m a stats guy. Numbers and data, especially when it comes to sports are some of the most intriguing stuff to me. My parents like to tell a story of how when I was three, I would read off the sports stats to them. Maybe that’s why I spend a lot of time following the guys over at 538 and looking at their club soccer predictions.

I may not understand all the formulas they use, but I understand their purpose. I wish they would go deeper into actual statistical categories. Honestly, they would probably be one of the better resources as far as that goes. But for now, we’ll just look at their club predictions.

Out of the seven matches played so far 538 has favored United to win only twice. Both of those were against Colorado Springs. In each of the other five matches, United was considered the underdog. I could understand the Phoenix match, but the others, I can’t agree with. Especially the prediction for tonight.

538 has the struggling Real Monarchs SLC favored over New Mexico United.

Granted, they are a slight favorite. But given the way the season is playing out, it’s hard to understand how their methodology came to this result. Even the USL Championship uses these predictions on their own website.

Some people prefer more tangible numbers.

New Mexico United is conceding 1.4 goals per game while earning two clean sheets. At the other end of the pitch, United has converted 21.1% of their total shots. If we look only at the shots on target, that number jumps to 42.9%. Considering half of United’s shots have been on target, that’s a pretty impressive number.

No matter how you slice it, United has outperformed the expectations. Those determined by 538 or by anyone else.

After looking impressive in what should have been a 3-0 victory over Colorado Springs, United move forward into this week where they have two matches against the reigning USL champions. The champions aren’t playing like it, however. With only one with on the campaign, they’ve yet to find their form from 2019. Most USL clubs suffer from roster turnover, but Real seems to be suffering more than most this season.

Or, it could just be championship hangover.

The latter seems unlikely given the level of the losses. Douglas Martinez, Maikel Chang, and of course Kalen Ryden are all gone. And that plays into United’s hands.

With Ryden now on board, Troy Lesesne has switched his club over to more three at the back formations and it’s paying dividends at both ends of the pitch. United is allowing fewer shots on target, conceding fewer penalties, and are able to regain possession a lot quicker in the defensive third. At the other end of the pitch, the three at the back formation is allowing Josh Suggs to play a lot higher on the pitch and contribute more to the attack.

There were times last year where there were questions about playing buying into the system. That isn’t the case in 2020. The press that United has become known for is working extraordinarily well, the defense is playing well, and more players are getting involved in the final third. A lot of it has to do with the versatility of the players. Now that everyone is healthy, there are lots of options to consider when forming a team sheet.

Troy has a hard decision on his hands when everyone is performing at a high level. It’s easy for us to second guess and try to figure out what did or didn’t go well for the club on any given day, but lately, it’s been very easy.

And it should be for United to get a result against Real. The Monarchs have conceded in every match while being held scoreless in three. United is a club that is scoring nearly two goals per match and has shown the ability to break down even the toughest defenses.

Jacob and I gave our predictions for both matches this week on the podcast, so go check that out, but it’s fair to say that we both believe that United should walk away from this week with at least 4 points if not all 6.

Wednesday night’s match is set for an 8 p.m. (mountain) kickoff from Zion’s Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+ and internationally on YouTube. Locally the match can be heard on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, and the website. Spanish language commentary is available on La Zeta 106.3 FM.