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Open Cup Match Preview: USL v MLS, New Mexico United v Colorado Rapids

By Seth Biddulph | June 11, 2019 | seekandstrikecollective@gmail.com

For the third time in under a month, New Mexico United are once again heading north to Colorado. This time they get to face off against the MLS club Colorado Rapids in the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup.

While United started the season strong, they’ve struggled in the lead up to this match. We came into this past week hoping to build momentum towards the first ever match against an MLS club. It hasn’t worked out that way, far from it in fact. In the past week, United drew with OKC Energy and was blanked by Sacramento. In what could only be described as uncharacteristic, United wasn’t able to fight back from a first-half deficit.

If you ask me, I think a lot of it had to do with the changes to the starting eleven.

I want to be clear; I think that all of our guys are more than capable of putting together a team of the week type performance any time they are called on. I also completely understand what Head Coach Troy Lesesne wanted to accomplish with the team sheet. I think it was the right plan, we just didn’t execute.

After the match against Sacramento, I had a chance to ask Troy about how does he get the club up for the Cup Match after the string of results we’ve had.

“If you can’t get up for that game, there’s something wrong with you,’ said Lesesne. “I don’t think it’s going to take much for them to rebound. If you can’t respond, then we’ve got bigger problems for the year.” He would go on to talk about how the club’s form has been this year, “we haven’t faced these types of results, where we got a draw and then lost. We usually rebound very quickly.”

He’s not wrong. It isn’t often that a club from the USL gets to face an MLS club. That alone is going to be a big motivator for the club.

“It’s going to be a difficult opponent in the Open Cup, but we’re going to go for it on Wednesday and I think the players will respond very well,” said Lesesne when asked about the matchup with Colorado.

We gave our score predictions on the Podcast this week (Go check it out on Apple Podcasts and Spotify if you haven’t already!). As I mentioned, I think a lot of the outcome will be determined by the roster that Colorado comes out with.

The MLS is funny when it comes to the Open Cup. Unlike in other tournaments we see around the world, the FA Cup, for example, MLS clubs don’t always take the Cup seriously. They have a tendency to play their younger players, which itself isn’t a bad thing, against the USL and lower division clubs. To me, it feels like they think of it as an inconvenience and that kind of attitude is detrimental to U.S. Soccer.

I’m not saying that Colorado will do this, but if they leave out guys like Kei Kamara or Tim Howard, then it significantly increases the chances for United to advance. The way I see it, United has 4 keys to advancing.

Finding space for Moar and Frater – our two biggest scoring threats have been quiet of late. United need to find ways to get them more involved and good looks in front of the goal.

Containing Kei Kamara – if he’s in the team sheet, Kamara is going to command a lot of attention from United. The league goal scorer for Colorado, he’s converted once every six shots.

Deal with Kellyn Acosta – the U.S. International star has been inconsistent at times and is the strongest between the boxes. If United can play around Acosta, his defensive abilities will be negated.

No Hiccups – United have a lot of talent on the pitch and have shown they can be solid defensively at times. It’s when we see the little hiccups that United seem to lose their composure a bit. They need to remain focused and refocus when play gets stopped.

Players to Watch

Juan Guzman – We saw what happened without Guzman in the midfield on Saturday. United had one of their worst halves of the season so far and lacked any sort of midfield control. Look for Guzman to be back in the team sheet and better play from United’s midfield.

Kevaughn Frater – Frater has had a tough couple of weeks. Goalless in his past two matches and picking up a couple more yellow cards has to be wearing on him. If Frater can channel the frustration we’ve been seeing of late, he could put a goal or two on Howard.

New Mexico Team Leaders

Goals: Kevaughn Frater (10)

Assists: Kevaughn Frater, Josh Suggs, Chris Wehan, Manny Padilla (3)

Saves: Cody Mizell (46)

Colorado did not have a good start to their year. Through their first nine matches, the Rapids were 0-7-2. At that point, they made a coaching change and are 4-2-1 since then.

We’d been looking at this potential pairing as the easiest route for United to advance. The recent play of Colorado has made it apparent that they aren’t an easy opponent. They are led defensively by U.S. Internationals Kellyn Acosta and Tim Howard. In their past five matches, they’ve only allowed 4 goals and raised their goal differential from -14 to -9.

Another big reason for the improved goal differential has been the play from a former teammate of Kenny Akamatsu, Andre Shinyashiki. Over the past five matches, he’s netted himself two goals and an assist. Taken in the 2019 Super Draft, the former University of Denver forward is plying his trade in the top tier of U.S. soccer and is doing very well.

Players to Watch

Andre Shinyashiki – after a 28-goal performance in his senior year at the University of Denver, he’s following that up with four goals and one assist so far in his rookie season. If he’s on the pitch at the same time as Kenny Akamatsu, it could be a fun battle between the two.

Tim Howard – Okay, admittedly this feels like a bit of a gimme. But, the Secretary of Defense is now 40 and has already allowed 33 goals on the season. By comparison, he allowed 58 all of last season and 39 in 2017. In his farewell tour to U.S. Soccer, anything could happen.

Colorado Rapids Team Leaders

Goals: Kei Kamara (8)

Assists: Jack Price (4)

Saves: Tim Howard (41)

The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, June 12. 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.

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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Twitter: @SeekandStrikeNM Instagram: @SeekandStrikeNM

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