By Seth Biddulph | July 10, 2019 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Here come the Road Warriors once again!
No, not Hawk and Animal. I may be pre-dating myself a bit based-upon my early WWF (now WWE) childhood heroes, some of you know will know who they are and others will not. However, these are not the road warriors I am talking about.
New Mexico United have become true Road Warriors in their inaugural season. They’ve just passed the halfway point of league play and have made it to the Quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. The match on Wednesday night against Minnesota United FC will be their 23rd of the year so far across all competitions. 15 of the 22 matches United have played, across all competitions, have been on the road. They’ve played more matches on the road than every other club in MLS or USL Championship.
Despite a 3-3-5 road record in league play, United’s run in the Cup has been nothing short of impressive.
Phoenix Rising FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas.
Of the four matches, United was arguably the favorite in only one of them. A case could be made for two if you include Colorado Rapids, but it was still unlikely as they were going up against their first MLS squad. Just a few short weeks later United upended a playoff contender in FC Dallas, punching their ticket to Minnesota for the next challenge.
With three of the previous four rounds going to at least extra time, United should be prepared to go the distance if necessary. If facing a third MLS club isn’t enough of a challenge, United will be without the services of Kevaughn Frater. Due to U.S. Open Cup discipline guidelines, Frater is suspended after picking up his third yellow of the tournament against FC Dallas. They won’t be without options in his absence though.
From top to bottom, the United roster has players that are capable of stepping up. Santi Moar has the potential to go off on any given night, and with the return of team captain Josh Suggs it could open up more possibilities in the attack for United. Suggs’ presence has been missed while he was out with an injury and Moar’s play seems to have been affected by it more than anyone else. There’s something special about the link-up play between the two; they have an understanding of where each other will be and how to work defenders off of each other.
The return of Suggs also gives some needed depth back to the back four of United. That’s not to say that the combination of Justin Schmidt and Sam Hamilton has been poor; in fact, they’ve done a respectable job in the middle of the defense. Suggs’ ability on the ball sets him apart from the majority of the defenders in the USL. He’s got the physicality to deal with attacking threats and has the vision to open up the field for the rest of the club. We won’t know for sure how the team sheet will line up tomorrow, but it would be a safe bet to think that Suggs will be in the team sheet somewhere.
United will have their hands full with the forwards of Minnesota United. Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez have combined for 11 goals on the season. There is something about their play that does benefit United; neither of them is very accurate. With a combined 28 of 83 shots on target, they may not threaten Cody Mizell much. It will depend on the players in front of Mizell and their ability to create contested looks.
Players to Watch
Santi Moar – Santi is due. That’s the simplest way to put it. He has the ability to shoot from anywhere on the pitch and if he and Suggs are on the same page, it could be a long night for whoever plays right-back for Minnesota.
Cody Mizell – I know most folks would want me to say Josh or someone else here, but I think Cody’s play is going to be of the utmost importance on Wednesday night. He’s performed at a high level throughout the Open Cup, holding two MLS clubs to three goals. Oh, and he also saved some penalties against one of them.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
- Goals: Frater (11)
- Shots: Moar (40)
- Saves: Mizell (53)
Minnesota United has a lot of momentum right now. They’ve won the last five matches across all competitions and you have to go all the way back to June 8 to find their last loss; a 1-0 defeat to Colorado Rapids. During their recent streak, they’ve scored 20 goals while allowing only 7. Prior to this run though, they had lost three in a row, including suffering two clean sheets.
They do find themselves in a similar situation to what United went through during the month of June. The match on Wednesday will be their fourth in twelve days. Because of that, they may not run out their usual eleven. In the previous matches against MLS clubs, neither of them ran out their full first teams, but a derivation of it. That makes it hard to predict what will happen, especially so deep into the Cup.
I would expect to see Quintero and possibly even Mason Toye. Toye, the second-year player, got his first MLS goal during Minnesota’s win over FC Cincinnati and opened his Cup account against Houston Dynamo. Both are capable of running at defenses and getting them out of position. The leadership of guys like Suggs will be extremely important when dealing with them.
Ike Opara is a name that shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s in the eleven. Opara has been one of the best defenders in the MLS over the past few years, being named the Defender of the Year and to the MLS Best XI in 2017. He’s going to try and disrupt the play of Moar and Sandoval in and around the box.
Players to Watch
Mason Toye – The youngster has been impressing in his time with Minnesota United. His age isn’t a detriment to his play on the pitch. He knows how to find space while timing his runs and his finishing has been very good. To illustrate that point, he’s converted three of his five shots on the season.
Ike Opara – As mentioned above, Opara will likely line up on the right and take on Moar. This will be a battle to watch throughout the match. Will the veteran get the better of Moar, or will El Matador show the old guy what’s what?
Minnesota United FC Team Leaders
- Goals: Quintero (6)
- Shots: Quintero (46)
- Saves: Vito Mannone (60)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 6:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Wednesday, July 10. 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 live on The Team app.
Photo Credit: Josh Lane/NM United
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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