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Only One Nation Will Rise: Sacramento Republic FC v New Mexico United

Match #15, Match Day Preview

By Seth Biddulph | June 8, 2019 | seekandstrikecollective@gmail.com

Every match is an opportunity. An opportunity for three points, an opportunity to work on tactics, an opportunity to evaluate talent.

Later this evening, New Mexico United (6-1-7) has an opportunity to rebound from another difficult draw. That’s a weird phrase; rebound from a draw. Points are always a good thing. Dropping points is a different matter. United had a chance to pick up three points on Wednesday against OKC Energy, but let the match get away from them in the second half.

United has to clean up their play in the second half of matches. No club is going to be perfect week in and week out. Tampa Bay is giving that thought a run for its money though. Wednesday night, it came down to leaving Deshorn Brown unmarked on a throw-in. One mistake. That’s all it took for OKC to snatch the points away. 

United need to avoid those kinds of mistakes against Sacramento Republic FC (5-5-2) this weekend. Sacramento will present a unique challenge for United with their tendency to play for the counter-attack. United have been very good on the ball in their last few matches with 67 and 64.8% possession against Colorado Springs and OKC respectively. Not only that but the passing has been much better. A few weeks ago, we talked about United having a lot of heavy touches and since then the club has shown a lot of improvement.

Against this kind of style, David Estrada and Juan Guzman will play key roles in the midfield. I would not be surprised to see both players on the team sheet for the week, but I think Guzman is a staple. I took a look at his stats this year and was blown away by what I saw. Three things immediately jumped off the page at me:

  1. 91.8% passing accuracy – not only is Guzman controlling the ball well, he’s picking out high percentage passes and not turning the ball over
  2. The pass distribution matrix – Guzman is looking to advance the ball. Every player passes back at some point, but his stats show that he’s trying to spread the ball around. This serves two purposes; first, it moves the defense. Getting the defense out of shape opens up lanes for the rest of United to make runs and take shots. The second purpose is, of course, to get the ball to our forwards. 91.8% passing accuracy – not only is Guzman controlling the ball well, he’s picking out high percentage passes and not turning the ball over
  3. 84.2% accuracy in the opponents half – looking at the clubs we’ve played and their styles of play, Guzman is putting himself in positions to generate possible looks and movement from those around him.

This is going to be a big part of the plan going against Sacramento. Controlling the midfield, controlling the tempo and keeping possession will give United their best chances for three points.

All of that won’t matter though if we don’t take quality shots. On the season, United is sporting a hefty 55.38% accuracy rating (72/130), which leads the USL. In the past two matches though, United have taken 38 shots and only 13 of them (34.2%) have been on target. I have to give credit to the opposing clubs for not allowing good looks, but United will need to find some answers. Daniel Bruce is one of those answers. Watching him play on Wednesday night, he gave Callum Ross and Kyle Hyland all that they could handle on the right wing. He’s able to spread the defense and create space and that can be dangerous for Sacramento.

United was able to contain the OKC forwards for much of the match Wednesday night and will now face, what some consider a better attack, Cameron Iwasa and Sam Werner. While not the only two weapons for the Sacramento side, these two will command attention. Without Josh Suggs available, the communication between Sam Hamilton and Justin Schmidt has been solid and they could make a statement with this match by shutting down Sacramento.

Players to Watch

Juan Guzman – 91.8% passing accuracy; 84.2% accuracy in the opponents half

Kevaughn Frater – Frater has to be feeling like he got the short end of the stick against OKC. Fouls that weren’t called, fouls that were and no goals, I expect to see him back on the score sheet.

New Mexico Team Leaders

  • Goals: Kevaughn Frater (10), Santi Moar (9)
  • Assists: Kevaughn Frater, Josh Suggs, Chris Wehan, Manny Padilla (3)
  • Saves: Cody Mizell (46)

Once again United welcomes a club that struggles on the road to The Lab. Sacramento is 2-4-0 on the road, having only managed to score six goals in those matches. One of those wins, however, was against Fresno.

Sacramento has been dealing with injuries this year and their form has suffered at times from that. Now that they have both Cameron Iwasa and Villyan Bijev back, their play up top could be difficult for United to deal with at times. The more pressing threat though is the link between Werner and Iwasa. The two have combined for eight goals, 35 shots, and 37 chances created. The biggest strength for Sacramento is its pace, which United can match across the board.

Defensively, Sacramento has been a mixed bag of results this year. They’ve conceded nearly two goals per match on the road, had four clean sheets on the season, and have allowed 2+ goals on five separate occasions (including a 2-1 loss on the road to lowly Tacoma). The question I have for Sacramento is what defense will show up? Will we see the defense with four clean sheets or the one that is porous?

Sacramento may feel that they have some momentum coming into this weekend after a victory over San Antonio, but that victory was aided by an own goal. Without it, the stoppage time concession would have resulted in a draw.

Players to Watch

Sam Werner – Werner has become a point-man for Sacramento during the absence of Iwasa and Bijev. He has 16 shots with 9 being on target, which so far has translated to 3 goals. If Werner and Iwasa can collaborate on the pitch, their efforts may open up the scoring opportunities for their team

Villyan Bijev – The 2016 Assists Champion and first team all USL player is returning from an injury but his ability to contribute shouldn’t be overlooked. Since he joined the USL, he’s registered 23 league goals in 93 appearances.

Sacramento Republic FC Team Leaders

  • Goals: Cameron Iwasa (5)
  • Assists: Cameron Iwasa, Ray Saari, Sam Werner (2)
  • Saves: Josh Cohen (25)

The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, June 8. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. ESPN+ is viewable online via the ESPN app or across a variety of mobile and connected living room devices, including Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and more. The match will also be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team and can be streamed on www.1017theteam.com.

Photo Credit: Adam Nish/Seek & Strike Collective

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

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