New Mexico United return to Isotopes Park to face OCSC on Sunday in search of 3 points.
By Seth Biddulph / Dylan Allen | Photo: Giovanni Delgado
No, you haven’t entered the Twilight Zone. The byline is correct, this preview is being brought to you by myself and Dylan Allen from the Orange & Black SoccerCast, the podcast of choice for all things OCSC.
Soccer is a uniting force among different communities. It’s the world’s game and we here at Seek & Strike Collective want to do what we can to build that community. Earlier this week, we put out the second in our Q&A series which you can check out here. Working with Dylan this week has been a great experience and it gives us a chance to bring our readers a different perspective. That being said, let’s jump right into our joint preview of this Sunday’s match against OCSC.
The past few weeks have been nerve-racking for New Mexico United (8-7-10) and their supporters. A month ago, things were looking up after a dismal summer. With back to back wins over Sacramento Republic and El Paso, United appeared to be finding their way back on course. Since then, United has gone winless in four matches and has slid down to 9th in the table. What had been an almost certain playoff berth now hangs in the balance as United tries to find a winning formula.
United heads into this weekend’s match with Orange County SC (8-8-9) after suffering their worst defeat of the season. Few could have predicted a 5-0 loss, but the circumstances that led to that final have been the biggest talking point afterward. An early offside call negated a goal from David Estrada and an extremely questionable red card for Saalih Muhammad had drastic effects on the remainder of the match. We can only speculate what was said by Muhammad to draw the red, but we can be sure that without it, we’re looking at a different outcome.
Statistically speaking, United gave SAFC a run for their money. Despite being a man down for nearly 70 minutes, the two sides were nearly even in almost every category tracked by the USL. Possession was nearly even and United managed to put in 13 shots compared to SAFC’s 18. The problem though was that only two of those shots forced Matt Cardone into action.
With seven of the remaining nine matches at home, United has to make the most of them if they want to make the playoffs. The turnaround could start this weekend against OCSC. In the second-ever meeting between the two, United will look to improve on the draw in the first match. When they met before, way back in March, United couldn’t hold onto a first-half 2-0 lead and each side walked away with a point.
The way I see it, United has two keys offensively:
The first is that they have to be more composed in the final third. This can be broken down into two separate ideas; they can’t lose possession in the area and they have to be able to finish. Several times over the past couple weeks shots have been scuffed or the ball was mishandled in promising situations. In a way, United has to be more patient in trying to play that final ball. Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar have been deadly with as little a half-yard of space and if United’s wing play can spread the back line of OCSC, the duo stands a good chance of finding the net.
Dylan Allen: The Orange County defense had a torrid opening to the season, largely due to the absence of a first-team quality defensive midfielder. This meant that the back four was subjected to extreme amounts of pressure. Combine that with a playmaker being used as a center back, and things went poorly. For a while. Michael Orozco’s arrival changed things, adding pace, versatility, and experience to the back line. A capable ball-playing defender, Orozco will provide trouble by closing down the offense, while Walker Hume will use his sheer size to block shots and keep the ball out of the box.
The second key for United to breaking down the OCSC defense is the play of their midfielders, particularly Juan Pablo Guzman and Chris Wehan. Though more of a defensive midfielder, Guzman is extremely good in possession and distribution. Pair that with Wehan’s recent form and his ability to drive the ball forward, United could find themselves with multiple channels open to them. Wehan has improved as the season has progressed and has become the third option in an already potent attack.
DA: Wehan’s been a player that’s given us trouble ever since he arrived in the league with Reno. But I think Christian Duke is well suited to limit the OC native’s success. A change in formation has additionally helped, as the midfield is much more congested in defense, forcing teams to try and play through the bodies or over the back line, which features 6’5” center back Walker Hume.
New Mexico United Players to Watch
Seth – Chris Wehan: As I talked about this week on the Orange and Black SoccerCast, I think Wehan has been tremendous for United over the past month or two. His ability on and off the ball, as well as his knowledge of Troy Lesesne’s system, positions him as being a big factor in this match.
Dylan – Chris Wehan: He leads the side in chances created for a reason, and he’s been a thorn in the side of OC over the last two years. Shutting him down will be paramount for the visitors, and if they’re successful, it should be the difference-maker.
New Mexico United Team Leaders
- Goals: Frater (14)
- Chances Created: Wehan (44)
Orange County SC has struggled on the road, only managing a single win which came against Colorado Springs on July 4. However, the last two games have seen a resolute side that has played a more calculated and clinical style of soccer.
In that time, Orange County has dispatched Las Vegas and Real Monarchs, netting three goals in both matches while only conceding once, against SLC. The defense coped with repeated counter-attacks from Las Vegas and was also tested by the Monarchs’ extended spells of possession. It’s a team and a defense that look radically different from the opening month of the season.
With injuries and suspensions no longer plaguing the side, OCSC has looked much more dangerous and much more similar to the team that won 20 regular season matches in 2018. Looking at recent form, this will be a close match, and both teams must win this match to stay in playoff contention.
Scoring more than the opposition is always a key to success, but OC need to dominate the scoresheet to make it easier on themselves late in the match. The Monarchs pressured Orange County for an extended period in the second half, but having a two goal cushion helped keep the team composed in defense. Darwin Jones and Michael Seaton have been lethal since the two have been paired together at the tip of the attack, freeing up space for Jerry van Wolfgang and Aodhan Quinn to punish teams with shots from outside the box.
SB: OCSC presents several challenges for United. Justin Schmidt had become a formidable defender and he’s not afraid to be physical with opposing players. The two things that the United back line needs to do are limiting the number of clean looks for OCSC and preventing second chance balls, especially for Seaton and Jones.
OCSC Players to Watch
Dylan – Frederik Due: Due will be making his debut in New Mexico and will face a tough test with Frater and Moar in fine form this season.
Seth – Walker Hume: Hume is a big body for OCSC coming out of the back. All season long United has struggled to deal with height advantages at both ends of the pitch. Hume is going to be a factor that United has to account for.
Orange County SC Team Leaders
- Goals: Michael Seaton and Darwin Jones (Nine)
- Chances Created: Jerry van Wolfgang (40)
- Dylan: 2 – 2
- Seth: 2 – 2
The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 4:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Sunday, September 1. International viewers will be able to watch the match live on YouTube. The match will also be broadcast live locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM and via The TEAM app.