Marks of A Champion: Unrivaled Attitude, Unstoppable Efforts, and United Execution
By Christopher Walker | April 15, 2019 |firstname.lastname@example.org
Match 7, POST-MATCH EDITION: New Mexico United defeat visiting Real Monarchs 5-1 FT
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – It’s just been over a month since New Mexico United first took the pitch at Isotopes Park. On that evening, the attendance exceeded a 12,000 person count as the expansion side played its opening night match against a visiting Fresno FC. While New Mexico United is a new club to the league, many of its players are familiar faces who have played minutes for some of the clubs they are playing minutes against this season. They are getting more time in on the pitch than they have in previous seasons. It’s important to highlight that opening night was the last time everyone on the roster was healthy.
The last 5 matches have been anything but perfect for New Mexico United. The club lost many key players throughout the weeks to injury. Austin Yearwood and Devon Sandoval were out for several weeks, while Kevaughn Frater and Justin Schmidt just missed one week of play each. Their absence came at pivotal moments where the team could have built up momentum. Instead, it’s been very much a stop-and-go type of season up to this moment. Of course, every match being minus players has impacted the attack strategy.
Coach Troy Lesesne has kept a positive attitude towards moving forward with the players he did have healthy on the roster. Lesesne has continued to make adjustments to compete in the next matchup and create new strategy to address the opposing team’s vulnerability, which has resulted in a road victory, as well as, draws against proven champions. Though, some of those draws could be seen as bittersweet as New Mexico United players have stepped up countless times over the weeks only to afford their opponents a backdoor to even up the score. New Mexico has left points on the table that it shouldn’t have but, the club remains undefeated sitting atop the Western Conference with a record of three wins, zero losses, and four draws (3-0-4).
“Everyone (has) stepped up at some point and I expect everyone to contribute through the entire year as we have 27 games to go,” Lesesne said. “So, I think we can continue within our system to be creative and continue to give guys chances and opportunities to prove themselves.”
This road-tested version of New Mexico United is the team Lesesne has envisioned. Each player has had to step up in a tremendous way by playing outside of their regular position. This is undoubtedly a challenge as far as skills and athleticism start to factor in. In this case, it also disarmed the attack. Josh Suggs was used as a center back defender in the match against Orange County SC due to Justin Schmidt’s injury during warmups. This really kept Suggs from being instrumental in the attack strategy. USL Rookie, Tommy Madden, saw his first start and played a full match in the same night. These things are unforeseen and bring the tally high when you’re already down men on the roster. Still, Lesesne and New Mexico United put in the work until the whistle blows the match dead.
On Saturday April 13, 2019, New Mexico United took the pitch again at Isotopes Park. It has been nearly three weeks since they have last been home in front of their fans. Saturday’s attendance amassed a 12,000 person count again though this time around, New Mexico United has some USL experience under their belts, as well as, a healthy roster.
“It’s an extremely positive thing. We have a great roster,” Lesesne added. “All our 22 guys we have signed right now can compete and come in and a play a role and we’ve seen that so far.”
Coach Lesesne had to make a hard decision ahead Saturday’s match as to who would be on the starting eleven or available as substitutes for the evening. The past three weeks, players stepped up that normally do not get as many minutes in a match. With a healthy roster, as well as, maximum efforts being contributed during training it ultimately came down to what the best look would be against Real Monarchs. New Mexico United defeated Real Monarchs 5 to 1 by keeping them from getting any rhythm, disrupting passes, pressing hard, as well as, creating chances for their players on the attack.
It’s evident that New Mexico United’s execution is a pure evidence of the teamwork ethic and they yielded the desired results from their pre-match strategy. Santi Moar, Kevaughn Frater, and Chris Wehan all found the back of the net during this match. New Mexico trailed 1 to 0 early in this match before Santi belted his first and second goals at the 24-minute and 28-minute marks. Moar earned his first Hat Trick (player who scores 3 goals in a single game) on a professional level.
“I said this the other week, I don’t think everything that is happening right now would happen (with) any other club because I think this is special,” Moar recalled. “I mean we have a lot of things to prove and we are only 7 games in. But, if we keep believing in what we are doing, this (is) going to be a good season. “
The crowd, showing their appreciation for Moar’s accomplishment, erupted into chants of “Hat Trick” and “Santi! Santi! Santi!” for several minutes non-stop. This put the club up 3 to 1 over Real Monarchs at the 40-minute mark and Frater padded the lead with a goal during added time just before halftime. The second half of this match saw New Mexico United continue its efforts as the aggressor unrelenting in their attempts to press hard against Real also pushing up their defensive shape transitioning into attack mode time after time.
Wehan was set up nicely off of a ball played by Manny Padilla that Devon Sandoval came in on a press against Real Monarchs’ goalkeeper David Ochoa and Ochoa couldn’t collect the ball as he fell to the ground. In that moment, the crowd saw the same thing Wehan saw, an opportunity to score and put this game far out of reach. It was as if the match was being played in slow motion from the point that Wehan found a sitter, scooped it up, and headed towards the net with only one thing on his mind, to score and he came up big. The audience erupted for a second time in the evening.
“Sometimes, you know when you get in those situations, you can’t rehearse it,” Wehan said. “You just have a good feeling. You know that you’re going to score and I scored (so) many goals like that in college in front of these same fans,” Wehan added. “I haven’t had that good of a feeling in soccer in a long time and I’m really happy to be having those moments here in front of these fans.”
New Mexico United have made a statement in this win over Real Monarchs. Real never really had much of a run on the ball in the evening. Monarchs’ Maikel Chang displayed moments of frustration on the pitch as efforts were continuously thwarted to get the ball his way. United goalkeeper Cody Mizell continues to look good in the box and has his best showings when he plays outside of the box. Real took 13 shots, 4 of which were on target and Mizell conceded 1 goal. United took 13 shots, 8 were on target and Ochoa conceded 5 goals. The difference between New Mexico and Real is experience.
“This is a great feeling but, I think there’s some guys that are disappointed that they didn’t play tonight,” Lesesne commented. “That’s the attitude we need to have every single week.
New Mexico United will hit the road this week to Nevada to face Reno 1868 on April 20, 2019 at 8pm MST. This match can be watched by live-streaming on the ESPN+ app.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Juan Labreche/NM United
Christopher Walker is a beat reporter for the Seek and Strike Collective covering the beat on New Mexico United and Albuquerque Sol soccer. Follow him on Twitter@_ChrisWalker505