Western Conference Lead Within Reach as Portland’s Ceiling Shows Signs of Collapse
Match 9, POST-MATCH EDITION: New Mexico United steals victory from Portland Timbers 2 knotting the game into a 3-3 tie in final minute of play.
By Christopher Walker | April 29, 2019 | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday, April 26, 2019, New Mexico United gave up a 2-0 lead over Portland Timbers 2 in front of 12,921 fans in attendance. The United found themselves down 3-2 at the end of full time with four minutes being added on as run-on time. Kevaughn Frater, who already had scored 2 goals on the night, dug way deep and scored a third time earning a hat trick as New Mexico United battled back from a deficit to send the match into a draw. This is the story we saw develop in front of our eyes at Isotopes Park but, a different narrative played out at the press conference after the match. Coach Troy Lesesne joined by United players Chris Wehan, Cody Mizell, and Kevaughn Frater sat before us at the table candidly waiting to answer questions about the match.
It was clear at this moment, from their non-verbal cues, that these four men sat in front of us in utter disappointment about the turn of events on the evening. Mizell’s demeanor exuded discontent though his message was full of encouragement and hope. Mizell was being asked about his headspace following a sequence of events where Timbers 2 score their third goal off of a penalty kick and proceed to celebrate in front of the supports section. Moments later, Timbers 2 are met mid-celebration with a barrage of fan confetti to include beer, cups, ice and cans. Mizell ran over to discourage the situation from continuing on.
“First of all, I think we have the best fans in the league,” Mizell says as he begins to sit upright in his chair. “I think that this game is very emotional and you can tell that it means a lot to this state, these people and it means a lot to us too.”
Much through the first half, you could get a sense of how chippy the game was becoming. Neither club scored a goal in those 50 minutes but, plenty of fouls were called, as well as, what appeared to be many non-calls that lead to frustration for New Mexico United. They dealt with Timbers 2 antics for as long as they could before they brought the same type of physical playing style back to their opponents. “We have to hold our emotions in the right way as players and they do as fans as well,” Mizell adds. “I think the same way we’ll learn from this game when we’re in complete control being up 2-nil, fans will learn from that. Together we’re going to win something this year.”
Staying the Course: Overcoming Adversity
There was plenty of adversity for the United to overcome in this game from what felt like at times one-sided officiating to the club being up 2-nil and losing control in a matter of minutes. Still moments like these have been addressed by the team off the field. It’s great to see this team coming together and addressing issues post-match in preparation for upcoming challenges. “I think that’s kind of been the theme of this group and we had a good talk about it yesterday (Thursday), about adversity,” Wehan comments. “You know we’re going to face adversity plenty of times throughout the year and that was a really big moment of adversity for us. It was just good to come together and get on the same page and have the belief that we can get back in this game.”
This belief has become a conviction by the club, which you could see playing out on the pitch by their actions. “We just sort of got on the same page,” Wehan recalls. “We knew there was still plenty of time to get back into the game.” If you’re a fan of this club, you have to be happy about the fight they are showing. The United has only been in the situation of being in a deficit in a game in the closing minutes one-time prior, last week, and has really addressed strategically. We’re smart players, we take what the game gives us,” Frater says. “With Devon being up top with me that’s more physical presence we know that if we get a ball into Dev’s chest or mine that it’s going to be a physical battle.”
The sequence of events that lead up to this 3-3 draw occurred in the final minute of run-on time. A corner kick ensued that dropped in front of the box. There was a scrum and the vision of Timbers 2’s goalkeeper was obstructed. United’s Sam Hamilton attempts a shot that was blocked. Sandoval traps the ball, which created a second chance by sending it back out on top, then Frater connects with a full-range of motion and it was nothing but net. Frater takes off running towards his team’s bench area sliding in on his knees in full excitement as he’s met by players and staff. “I just saw all the runs go in and I was like alright I am going to make a different run so that I’ll be free when ball gets down or comes back out,” Frater said. “I just trusted my technique; I got the same shot in Reno in the first half and I didn’t score it. I looked back at it and I was like I got to be more clinical in front of the goal and that’s what we did.” After it was all said and done, Frater was the second United player to achieve a hat trick. That’s two players in a 3-week span.
You could see Wehan’s appreciation of his teammates’ accomplishment when the two of them were asked a question about their feeling of being free to move about an offense that has so many scoring threats. “I’ll go ahead and answer this first,” Frater says with a smile. “You score a hat trick you can do whatever you want,” Wehan chuckles. It’s great to see these guys having some fun with each other as the press conference starts to wind down.
Blast from The Past, Week 5 against Tacoma
Moments after the New Mexico United’s match against Tacoma, I had strong thoughts about why Kevaughn Frater should have left with at least a hat trick. All night, Frater fetched the long pass, sniped the ricochets, and created chances for his teammates to join in on the maraud. That night, Frater gave his teammates a show in the first half as the lone marksman. It had been an otherwise quiet night for the United firing squad. Tacoma managed to score in the opening minutes of the match, a first for the United to be trailing, while keeping Santi Moar out of range to let shots fly.
Frater’s effort lead to New Mexico’s resurgence in the second half as the club rallied together to combine for 22 shots on the night. One of those shots was a blast from Frater at the 77-minute mark to put the United up 2-1 for the win on the road. Until this match with Tacoma, the United typically averaged 12-15 shots per match. While the count seems low, many of the club’s shots are on target. Their aim is rich and weekly statistic totals give clear evidence that the ethos in the locker room is to make every shot count or move the ball around until there’s an opportunity.
Frater’s approach on the pitch that night was visceral as he rocketed 7 shots attempts on the night while scoring the winning goal. This gave United fans a snapshot of the passion that he has for the game. Frater, on the field, is expressive with his emotions, whether its frustration, determination, or achievement. He works hard when he’s in on the pitch giving every bit of heart. He also shows off his excitement after scoring goals. Frater’s favorite move is pretending to be superman in mid-flight heading straight for a section of fans. His team can be seen in the background congratulating each other until finally running towards Frater and crowding around him in pure excitement.
Final Thoughts from Coach Lesesne
“I think anytime you’re scoring goals late in matches it’s a great feeling and a lot of people walk away and they feel like this is a win in some ways,” Lesesne states. “I don’t think any of us feel that way. it is a good marker from the standpoint of we gave up a late goal versus Reno and it’s a bad feeling. But when you score a goal late to get a draw here tonight versus Portland, then that is a positive thing. There are plenty of positives out of tonight. Lesesne sat in mid-reflection staring down his bottle of water as he adjusted the cap after taking a drink. He was in his thoughts.
He made it clear to us that his team and technical staff have a lot of work to do to prepare for San Antonio this upcoming week. He’s anticipating full participation from his players to put together the best starting eleven by Sunday. The United will have a couple days off before they start training this week. “All that said, great resolve, great fight, great character from our group its what we think we’re built off of and I’m extremely proud,” Lesesne said. “It’s unfortunate, two great saves from him (Mizell) and a hat trick from him tonight (Frater) and that gets overshadowed a little bit by the ups and downs of the second half but, if you’re a fan you can’t ask for anything more tonight. That’s for sure that was quite entertaining.”
New Mexico United (3-1-5) hosts San Antonio FC (3-4-1) this upcoming Sunday May 5, 2019 at Isotopes Park. The United sit just 1 point behind Timbers 2 in a two-way tie with Tulsa for second place. Timbers 2 faces Rio Grande Valley FC on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.
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 and join in on the conversation on Twitter @_ChrisWalker505