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US Open Cup Recap: Rising Above Phoenix, New Mexico United Advances to Third Round

Post-Match Edition: New Mexico United and Phoenix Rising FC finish regulation and added extra time in a draw. The win by United was decided by penalty kicks and skilled goalkeeping.

By Seth Biddulph | May 16, 2019 |

I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in the Open Cup.

I don’t know where you were watching last night, but if you didn’t watch at all you missed a great match. Of all the watch parties around town we, Seek & Strike Collective, found ourselves at Salt Yard with quite a few other New Mexico United supporters. I can’t think of a better place to watch our boys play; the atmosphere was incredible.

As an Atlanta United supporter, I’ve seen the club not really put a lot of importance on the Cup. To hear from United’s Technical Director, Troy Lesesne, that the club was going into their inaugural appearance this year with the intent of competing was a welcome change. If you weren’t familiar with the club going into the match, you might have thought that the lineup was a step down from our usual team sheets.

To be fair, the lineup had a number of changes from the Sunday match against El Paso. Any time there is a short week, in United’s case there are three matches in eight days, there is going to be some rotation. Lesesne went deep into the roster to try and keep some legs fresh. Last night’s team sheet featured starts for Austin Yearwood, Tommy Madden, Kenny Akamatsu, the return of Justin Schmidt, and the professional debut for Ethen Sampson. It was quite a bit of change for the New Mexico side.

After the draw Sunday night, there was some question as to how United would respond on short rest and could they recapture the energy level they showed in previous matches. It wouldn’t take long for those watching to see that New Mexico came ready. Within the first six minutes of the match, United had put two shots on target, forcing multiple saves from Rising keeper Carl Woszczynski.

As Phoenix started to grow into the match, they would show part of what would be their undoing. Despite having some room to run, they would struggle to connect on crosses or put shots on target from distance. In the 25th, Junior Flemmings would make an unassisted run deep into the United half and would force a save from Cody Mizell. On the return down the pitch, Kevaughn Frater would take possession outside the box but be ultimately dispossessed at the spot. Throughout the half, Frater’s presence would cause problems for the Phoenix back line and he drew several fouls giving United chances in the attacking third.

With 15 minutes to play in the half Phoenix finally started to show some real teeth. The footwork from Flemmings was immaculate. Cutting back and forth inside the goal area, he caused Yearwood to misread a play and was able to play the ball on a cross, but United was able to deal with the threat. United would also return to the high press that has been so successful for them this year. You could just see the confidence of both clubs growing towards the half. Although the stat line at halftime looked to be very much in the favor of Phoenix, you wouldn’t know that by looking at the quality of play on the field.
While the first half wasn’t exciting football, we saw a solid playstyle from United. The one well-hit shot from either side came courtesy of United’s Santi Moar, but it was saved.

Phoenix took a page from the United playbook and came out of the half employing a high press. Frater was able to make a run through the Rising defense in the 53rd minute. He was unable to be of any real danger to Woszczynski. Shortly after, Frater, who had received multiple warnings in the first half, would be given a yellow for arguably a soft foul.

The pace of the match picked up greatly 15 minutes in. Flemmings was starting to emerge from his shells and made dangerous runs in the 60th opening up a chance for James Musa. Off the volley, Musa would put a shot on target forcing a great save from Mizell. Down at the other end, Moar would have a go from seven yards out that was somehow saved on a great reaction from Woszczynski. As the clock hit 63 minutes, Amadou Dia sold the referee on a fall inside the box. There had been some very minor contact between Dia and Sampson leading up to it, but Dia took advantage and on a poor decision by the referee was awarded a penalty kick. Mizell would guess correctly and dive to his left, but the poorly struck ball by Flemmings would bounce over Cody’s hands and into the net putting the hosts up 1-0.

Santi nearly pulled United level in the 67th with a well-hit ball from the top of the box but was just wide. Lesesne would use all three of his substitutions before the 75th bringing in Chris Wehan, Josh Suggs, and Devon Sandoval. Each of these changes would prove to be pivotal in the outcome of the match. All three changes brought an attack-minded player showing that United was absolutely taking the Cup seriously. The much-needed injection of fresh legs to the pitch paid dividends in the 79th as Suggs would send in a cross from the left wing and a header from Sandoval would find the side net just inside the back post.

United had a chance in the 84th to break the draw, but Sandoval’s shot missed just left. Phoenix had their chances as well, but Mizell was able to make some tremendous saves, pushing the match to extra time. If you’re not familiar with the Open Cup format there are a few rules changes. If the score is level at the end of regulation the match moves to extra time; two 15-minute halves. If the score is still tied at the end of extra time, we go to penalty kicks. The other change is that each club is allowed a fourth substitution.

Sandoval would find the back of the net in the 95thto give United their first lead of the match. A long-range strike from Moar would take a deflection and Devon would push it home. Leg weary and road tired, the United defense would lose track of substitute Adam Jahn in the 101st minute as he made a run down the right side. Jahn would bury a right footed shot into the far post and put Phoenix back level. Despite a late push, United could not convert on any other chances and extra time ended with the sides tied 2-2.

Lesesne and his club looked confident going into penalty kicks and came out with a strong choice; Wehan, Moar, Sandoval, Suggs, and Schmidt. Phoenix looked to keep the pressure on with theirs; Jahn, Asante, Dia, Ben Spencer, and A.J. Cochran.United would convert their first three attempts and Phoenix their first two, all to the left. On their third, the left-footed Asante stepped up and tried to place a shot in the bottom right corner, but Mizell guessed correctly and his save put United up 3-2. Suggs would follow with a shot to the bottom left, but he was also saved.

With their fourth shot, Spencer would place the ball just left of center but Mizell had gone to his right and couldn’t make the save. Now even at 3-3 and each club with one shot left, it came down to Schmidt and Cochran. The returning Schmidt would bury his shot in the top right corner putting United ahead 4-3. Cochran would then assume his position at the loneliest place on the pitch. The left footed shot headed towards the bottom right corner but Mizell had once again guessed correctly to send United through to the Third Round, 4-3 on penalties.

United showed us once again that there’s just no quit in this club. Coming from behind and on short rest, United’s upended the defending Western Conference Champions. There are some questions going forward, the main ones being how will this match affect United? Are we able to carry the momentum? Are we able to overcome the amount of travel and short rest? I think the club can take a lot from the match last night and build something incredibly off of it.

We won, so what’s next? As for the U.S. Open Cup, we just had another away match added to our already full May schedule. On May 29th the club will be on the road for round three as they head to Colorado to take on Switchbacks. Outside of Cup action, United will next play on Saturday, May 18, also at Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

Both of those matches will be streamed live on ESPN+.

Player(s) of the Match

Devon Sandoval – What an option Devon is to have come off the bench. Subbed on during the second half, Devon was able to net himself a brace and nailed his Penalty kick. His play tonight put a giant spark into United in the second half.

Cody Mizell – On the back of an 11 save night, if not for Cody the match would have gone completely different. And that just got us to Penalties. Two more saves during penalties put United in the win column and advancing to round three.

Seth Biddulph is a beat writer for Seek & Strike Collective covering the beat on New Mexico United and US Open Cup 2019. Follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation @SethBiddulph

Twitter: @SeekandStrikeNM Instagram: @SeekandStrikeNM

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