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Match 8: New Mexico Sons Shine, United Still Enchant in Season’s First Loss

Two Sons, Two Paths and One State United

Match 8, POST-MATCH EDITION: Reno 1868 edges past New Mexico United 2-1 FT.

By Christopher Walker | April 22, 2019 | seekandstrikecollective@gmail.com

Two Sons and One State United

In 2017, then-expansion side Reno 1868 was entering its inaugural season into the USL. Chris Wehan, former University of New Mexico Lobo soccer standout went undrafted in the 2017 Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft. Wehan finished his college career scoring 31 goals, 8 assists from 80 games played. Wehan signed with Reno 1868 for his debut professional season. Wehan scored his first professional goal in his sixth game on the road against Phoenix Rising FC. Wehan went on to earn USL All-League First Team, USL Assist Title, and USL Rookie of the Year. This ultimately helped Wehan to earn his MLS contract with the San Jose Earthquakes. Wehan finished his 2017 season with 8 goals and 12 assists. Wehan emerged in his USL Rookie season long before a mention of New Mexico United and Reno finished 3rd in the Western Conference in the regular season and would exit the playoffs losing 1-0 to OKC Energy.

Wehan’s return to Greater Nevada Field to face his first professional club, Reno 1868, has been one of the major discussions surrounding this match along with the fact that his current club, New Mexico United is still undefeated and looking to extend their streak for another week. Both teams are coming off victories and looking to make it two-in-a-row.

Earlier this year, former Cibola High School and Albuquerque Sol soccer standout, Sergio Rivas, was selected 26th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft by San Jose Earthquakes. Rivas, who played for the Sol, then Premier Development League (now United Soccer League Division 2 or USL2) played soccer in college for Seattle University RedHawks and finished with 21 goals and 27 assists through 85 games played. Rivas, was drafted March 20, 2019 on the heel of now expansion side, New Mexico United, inaugural season in the USL Championship. Rivas is five games into his professional career as a Rookie on the Reno 1868 roster. Rivas may not have been a part of the discussion heading into this past weekend’s match with New Mexico United on a national level but, I believe he earned his spot at the table after this match.

This past-weekend’s game between Reno 1868 and New Mexico United saw the return of Wehan to Reno and the emergence of Rivas. Rivas and New Mexico United players are considered to be a part of the same family according to soccer fans in the State of New Mexico. Rivas scored the first goal of his professional career at the 28-minute mark and finished with 3 shots, 2 on target. Rivas maintained a passing accuracy of 90 percent throughout both sides of the pitch. New Mexico United fans’ reaction to the game on social media is a general consensus of being happy for Rivas and proud of how New Mexico United played through the entire game. Reno 1868 handed New Mexico United its first loss with a score of 2-1 at full time after add-on time expired.

Two Sons on Two Different Paths

Reno entered into Saturday’s game with a record of 2-1-3 (W-L-D) and New Mexico United had a record of 3-0-4. Following this game, Reno moved into 3rd on the table standings just one point behind New Mexico United, who is currently in 2nd on the table behind Portland Timbers 2. Reno just signed Emrah Kilmenta to their roster last week. Kilmenta has been regarded as a standout defender. At the onset of this game, Reno had Kilmenta as right fullback and Zach Carroll holding the center fullback slot.

By kickoff, Kilmenta shifted to center fullback as well. Carroll is also regarded as a top defender so it’s clear that 1868 Coach Ian Russell wanted to seal off the front of the goal from threats by Wehan and Kevin Frater. Russell also had Santi Moar doubled up every time he entered into the wing on the pitch. This proved to be a good strategy up close. New Mexico United crashed the front of the goal last week against Real Monarchs SLC. Russell clearly made the adjustment after giving up the center of the goal two weeks ago against the Monarchs.

Rivas scored his goal at the 28-minute mark. Duke Lacroix scored the game-winning goal at the 89-minute mark. Both Reno goals were shots from outside the box. Reno’s scoring threats are Brian Brown and Corey Hertzog. Both were covered pretty well until later in the game where Brown nearly scores off of a header but, New Mexico United goalkeeper, Cody Mizell was there to dive on the ball. Reno’s goals both entered the net from outside the box. It appeared as though Mizell’s line of sight was obstructed by United center fullback Justin Schmidt.

The vantage point of the camera on the broadcast shows each ball zing past Schmidt before he is able to throw himself in front of the shots. After Rivas’ shot entering from the right side, I wonder if the talk in the 1868 locker room was to shoot around Schmidt. Schmidt managed to absorb one shot with his body. Lacroix dribbled up the ball from right in front of the right and center full back before firing off shot past Schmidt into the top shelf in the left corner of the goal. Again, the camera shows Schmidt caught off-guard as Mizell gets a hand on the ball but cannot stop its flight. Mizell definitely appeared to show some frustration with the lack of movement by the center fullbacks.

New Mexico United had Wehan as its striker, while Frater played behind him. Moar started off as the left winger as he normally does. Toni Soler, Juan Guzman, and David Estrada rounded out the rest of the midfield line. This was the same lineup as the game against the Monarchs last week except, Frater and Wehan were reversed in roles. Wehan took just two shots and one of them was a sure-fire goal but, Wehan was too wide. Frater took six shots, 4 of which were on target but, he didn’t score any goals.

Coach Troy Lesesne did comment last week about being able to be creative with a healthy roster and he illustrated this by flipping the midfielders so that Moar was running up the right side of the pitch. This saw a match-up of Moar and Lacroix before Carroll joined in to double Moar keeping him from being a scoring threat but, not from being able to send cross passes into the box for his teammates to try to head into the goal. Along those lines, I wondered if Lesesne would flip the fullbacks because Rashid Tetteh and Manny Padilla played their side so well.

Josh Suggs has often been used as center fullback, which usually sees Suggs playing more of a sweeper role while Mizell sits in the goal more until he starts playing outside the box, where his save rating is high. Suggs managed to blast a goal into Reno’s goal from outside of the box at the 39-minute mark, which tied the game up at half time.  Sam Hamilton substituted in for Soler at start of the second half. Devon Sandoval came in for Wehan at the 66-minute mark. Kenny Akamatsu replaced Moar at the 81-minute mark. It may have appeared that New Mexico was going into “let’s exit with a draw” protocol but, Reno kept the majority of its starting personnel in the game as it was evident, they were after the win. Lacroix sunk his goal and New Mexico couldn’t bounce back with a score of its own.

New Mexico United will host visiting Portland Timbers 2 on Friday April 26, 2019. Timbers 2 is sitting at 1st place in the table standings. If New Mexico can win, it’ll be takeover 1st place. This matchup with Reno 1868 will resume in September at Isotopes Park.

Photo Credit: Josh Lane/NM United

Christopher Walker is a beat writer for Seek & Strike Collective covering the beat on New Mexico United and Albuquerque Sol soccer. Follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation. @_ChrisWalker505

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