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New Mexico United Shifting into Rare Form

By Chris Walker | June 30, 2019 | seekandstrikecollective@gmail.com

As LA Ends

On Saturday, June 22, New Mexico United returned to rare-form playing solid defense for 45-plus minutes against LA Galaxy II (Los Dos) after balancing out the scoreline at 1-1. The match resulted in a draw as United closed out their latest US Open Cup and USL Championship pairing with positive results. They advanced to the quarterfinals to face Major League Soccer side, Minnesota United FC and earned a point on the road to stay at the top of the Western Conference Table. 

Moments after the match, there appeared to be mixed reactions by both teams’ players as they walked to the locker room. Some Los Dos players seemed overjoyed to hang in 90 minutes with the expansion side United and others seemed dejected that they couldn’t win the match at home. Some United players had a look of disappointment, frustration, and disbelief on their way to their locker room. Then United’s Technical Director and Head Coach, Troy Lesesne, walks up and says, “decent game in Dallas huh?” in a lively manner.

Lesesne saw a different team on the pitch against FC Dallas. There was a glow about him. He was excited about the progress his primary starting eleven had made in the latest edition of their Open Cup run.

“The commitment from the guys, the defensive effort, is what we are looking for from them. There was a different level of focus on the field from that group,” Lesesne says. “We wanted to try and replicate that again because it was so good. We wanted to see them take up that approach against Galaxy II. This sort of defensive effort needs to be a part of our foundation.”

Halfway In

Opportunity had been given to players hungry for minutes as league play and Open Cup matches advanced throughout the season. This was due to a lack of defensive effort from the primary starting group. They scored 37 goals and allowed 19 goals. Potential wins turned into draws.

As a result, some of the original eighteen started to see time in on the pitch. Ryan Williams, David Estrada, Manny Padilla, Austin Yearwood, and Tommy Madden became options for Lesesne when matches needed a spark on the attacking and defensive half.

Williams has come into matches as a chance creator and has showcased his ability to score goals as well. He has 2 goals on the season. Madden has come into the middle third as more of a chance creator. When he plays in the left back position, he kills attacks and contributes towards the transition back on the attack. Estrada has been creating chances as of late. He also slows down the tempo of the game when it is playing fast against United. Yearwood started off the year playing in the right-back position in a steady rotation. When left-back Josh Suggs injured his knee, Yearwood was rotated into the left-back position. Padilla plays in the right back position. He has 3 assists on the season. His leg was a huge contribution early on sending balls through the middle third to create chances. His playing time tapered off shortly after the Open Cup match against Phoenix Rising FC due to some internal rules that were violated. Padilla has since made appearances in the last two Open Cup matches (Rapids, Dallas).

Teams started to figure out how to defend leading goal scorers Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar. All the play shifted to the left-hand side. Lesesne started to shift players to the right wing to help isolate Moar on the attack. Daniel Bruce, Ken Akamatsu, and Ethen Sampson have been the latest players to enter the starting eleven and match day eighteen. These players were left off the active roster earlier this season due to visa issues.

Since then, they’ve created some healthy competition to slide into Lesesne’s arsenal of threats. Bruce is still establishing himself on the pitch. He’s become more of a chance creator serving the ball from the right wing in isolated 1 v 1 matchups. He’s made 2 starts and played in 4 games. Akamatsu has also served as a chance creator at times when he’s in on the pitch. He’s made 4 starts and played in 9 games. Sampson entered the eleven as Padilla’s match time reduced. Sampson adds a bold presence in the right back position. He made 5 starts and played in 5 games.

On Frame with Coach Lesesne

The matches against Sacramento Republic FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, and Galaxy II were targeted as good opportunities for United’s alternate starting group to get quality minutes in on the pitch. At the same time, Lesesne’s primary starting group would be able to get rest since their Open Cup matches pushed into 120 minutes.

After the OKC Energy match, Lesesne told media that his club needed to get adjusted to 1-0, 2-0 score lines. He was concerned about creating enough chances to score goals and complimenting that effort with a defensive core that could defend the lead.

Sacramento: His alternate starting group gave him a 0-1 deficit match against Sacramento Republic FC prior to primary starting group substitutions. United couldn’t create any chances to score goals and hold Republic FC to one goal. This match resulted in a 0-3 loss for United.

Las Vegas:  Las Vegas Lights FC was without their leading goal scorer. United’s alternate starting group found themselves down 0-3. Estrada scored a goal late bring it to 1-3. Lesesne brought in his primary starting group substitutions. United created some chances but none of them went in the net. Las Vegas added two more goals to the score and United lost 1-5.

The matches against Republic FC and Lights FC were great opportunities for Lesesne’s alternate starting group to gain playing minutes. They would have a true opportunity to create chances and dominate defensively. These matches ended up being good tests for Lesesne’s primary starting group to play in when United was trailing their opponent. 

Los Angeles featured the primary starting group.

“We’ve been giving up too many goals during league play recently so that was the decision to go back to that group,” Lesesne said. “They only gave up one goal to Dallas and only gave up one goal against Galaxy II. I think we’re getting better in the defensive moments on the road. That’s what we’re going to do to get points and be the top of the table.”

The alternate starting group has only scored 3 goals on the year (Williams 2, Estrada 1). They are still best used as a compliment to United’s primary starting group. The game was in a 0-1 deficit and United put in the right defensive effort to bring Galaxy II’s game to a halt. United focused on ball movement and creating chances to bring the scoreline to 1-1. The momentum was in United’s favor by the end of the match. Despite the draw, United is now playing in rare-form at the halfway mark of the season.

I see that as a win for Lesesne.

Photo Credit: Josh Lane/NM United

Chris Walker is a writer for Seek & Strike Collective covering NM United, Albuquerque Sol FC, and Albuquerque FC. Follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation. @_ChrisWalker505

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