By Seth Biddulph | Photo: Adam Nish | firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s how many away matches New Mexico United (8-5-9) has remaining on their schedule. The first of those will take place on Sunday night against Portland Timbers 2 (7-7-8). At the end of the Saturday matches, only 7 points separate the clubs currently sitting from fourth to fourteenth in the standings. Both New Mexico and Portland are part of the group vying for what appears to be the final five spots in the playoff race.
Phoenix, Reno, and Fresno have all but secured their places. The log jam in the middle of the Western Conference is just waiting for someone to take the reins and pull away from the rest. Despite a heavily discussed mid-season slump, United took advantage of two matches at home and managed to pick up a much needed four points. With the recent results, the club appears to be regaining the form they put on display early in the season.
Much of the early season’s success was the result of Kevaughn Frater’s relentless attacking. One such instance of this was in the first match against Portland, during which Frater was able to net a hat trick. The final goal of the three was a stoppage-time stunner, pulling out a miraculous draw for United.
For United, the struggles over the past few months appear to have helped them find more ways for every player to contribute. Newly minted Team of the Week player Chris Wehan has come on strong in recent weeks and is proving to be a suitable fill-in for Frater. With more goals coming from players other than Frater, it opens up the pitch more for the rest of the club. The fluidity of play has the club looking the most dangerous it has in some time.
Players to Watch
Chris Wehan – Chris’ confidence has to be through the roof right now. His performances lately have been superb and he’s making a case that perhaps the MLS should come calling again. Capable of filling in for Frater in the 10 role or dropping back, he could be in for another big night with Frater drawing the attention of the Portland defense.
Josh Suggs – After a rare night off, which may have just been for rest, Suggs could have an important role for the night. Granted, as the captain, he always does but against a squad like Portland, his leadership will be necessary for understanding what Portland will want to do and how to contain them.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
Goals: Frater (13)
Passing Accuracy: Juan Pablo Guzman (91.5%)
Blocks: Justin Schmidt (18)
Portland is just trying to hang on. Winless in their last five matches, they sit just below the playoff positions but aren’t out of it yet. This match could be a deciding factor in how things shake out the rest of the way for them.
It’s fair to say that they’ve struggled against everyone in that time. Five goals in five matches is hard for any club to overcome, but not insurmountable. It becomes significantly harder, however, when you can’t prevent your opponents from scoring.
It remains to be seen what the club makeup will be for Portland. Their parent club, the MLS side Portland Timbers, has loaned Dairon Asprilla to the USL club for seven matches so far this season. Asprilla has made the most of those appearances, averaging one goal per match. Even though he hasn’t been with the club all season, he now leads the Timbers in scoring. Followed closely by Brayan Hurtado, the club has no shortage of scoring options that will need to be dealt with.
Portland Timbers 2 Team Leaders
Goals: Asprilla (7)
Passing Accuracy: Jose Carlos Anguiano (87.2%)
Blocks: Modou Jadama (13)
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Sunday, August 11. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube.