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Match Preview: United Must Out Battle Sac’s Attack, Dictate Diaz’s Game

By Seth Biddulph | July 24, 2019 | seekandstrikecollective@gmail.com

New Mexico United (6-5-8) is only hours away from ending their extended road trip. Tonight’s match against Sacramento Republic FC (8-8-2) will be the eighth match across all competitions for United since June 8th. In that period, United has struggled in league play, falling from first place in the Western Conference down to ninth; where they currently sit.

Winless in their previous four league matches, United are looking for a spark to get their season back on track. They lacked creativity during the match against Fresno FC, a not altogether unexpected side effect of the club missing both Kevaughn Frater and Juan Pablo Guzman due to suspension. Frater’s return could be just what United needs at this point in the season. Near the top of the race for the Golden Boot, Frater’s ability to be creative in the final third causes mismatches for opposing defenders.

United also may have some momentum on their side going into Sacramento.

Last week, United hosted Welsh club Cardiff City FC for their first-ever international friendly. The Bluebirds, who were in the middle of a preseason tour through North America, may have considered themselves lucky to leave Albuquerque with a draw. United jumped out to an early second minute lead on the strength of Kenny Akamatsu’s first career goal and it took until late in the second half for the Bluebirds to equalize.

Throughout the friendly, we saw nearly the entire United roster and it would be hard to pick out a single poor performance. Though it was just a friendly, the club had nothing but positives as takeaways. The performance of the club was one that any club would be proud of, but for a first-year club, the amount of growth that it showed was undeniable.

That type of performance and the growing confidence could be just what United need as they stare down the final 15 matches of the season. With an uphill battle ahead of them, though not insurmountable, they know that they have to be at their best every week.

Against an opponent like Sacramento Republic FC, who defeated United 3-0 in the first meeting, United has to find a way to regain the form they had earlier in the season. It’s been mentioned several times, but their ball movement is quite possibly the biggest key. With United now back at full strength, they just might have the edge over Sacramento.

Players to Watch

Kevaughn Frater – back from his second suspension of the season, Frater has to know that he can’t continue to accumulate yellow cards at the rate he has been. Undeniably United’s point man, his presence on the pitch will be extremely important as the playoff push begins in earnest. Frater’s speed will cause problems for the Republic in the attacking third and that could open the goal area for himself or someone else.

Saalih Muhammad – after an impressive showing against Cardiff City, Saalih could find himself in a spot to pick up his first goal of the season. He showed great vision against Cardiff and was able to show off his defensive skills against the internationals.

I’m going to throw in a dark horse here.

I know we haven’t seen much of him this season, but after a very good performance against Cardiff, including some nice crossing into the box, it isn’t improbable that Josh Goss could see some playing time. I don’t know exactly how likely it is, but he showed off some really good vision on Thursday night, and he could provide a different look for United.

New Mexico United Team Leaders

  • Goals: Kevaughn Frater (11)
  • Assists: Chris Wehan (4)
  • Saves: Cody Mizell (56)

Sacramento Republic has been struggling with consistency since the beginning of June. They started the month of June by scoring 11 goals and registering two clean sheets in their first three matches. In the four matches since, they have gone 1-3-0 and managed to score only two goals in that time. They’ve also hit a bit of a snag defensively.

On July 19, the club announced the sale of starting keeper Josh Cohen to Maccabi Haifa FC of the Israeli Premier League. Since then, Rafael Diaz has been pushed into the starting role. In two prior appearances this year, Diaz has recorded 5 goals conceded and only 3 saves. A five year veteran of the USL, Diaz is no stranger to the level of competition he will be facing, but perhaps he hasn’t yet seen an attack like that from United. Can he maintain the same level of communication that Cohen did with the defenders in front of him or will United capitalize on the change?

Players to Watch

Cameron Iwasa – this is an easy one to fall back on. Sacramento’s leading scorer, Iwasa bagged two goals in the first match and was able to find a lot of space in a makeshift back four for United. Now that Josh Suggs is back, Iwasa may find the night to be a good deal harder on him, but he has the quality to make magic from anywhere on the field.

Villyan Bijev – The combination of Bijev and Iwasa proved to be too much for United the first time out. Bijev hasn’t quite had the offensive numbers that some expected him to have, but he’s been able to contribute all season long.

Since I did it for United, I’ll give a dark horse for Republic FC as well. Dariusz Formella, the newest signing, could make his first appearance for the club. The young forward looks to be an exciting prospect and could give Sacramento a much-needed boost in the final third.

Sacramento Republic FC Team Leaders

  • Goals: Iwasa (9)
  • Assists: Iwasa, Ray Saari, Sam Werner (3)
  • Saves: Diaz (3)

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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