New Mexico United has won the last two matches and looks to make it three while earning 3 more points.
By Chris Walker | Photo: Josh Lane
Earlier in the season, expansion side New Mexico United traveled to face Reno 1868 on a 7-match unbeaten streak. It was an early homecoming for United midfielder Chris Wehan, who spent his USL Rookie season with Reno 1868 in 2017.
I sat down with Wehan to discuss this week’s match against Reno 1868 and what it meant to him to face his former club this season.
Wehan was named the USL Rookie of the Year and the Assist Champion. He posted 8 goals and 12 assists that year.
United trailed early in the match after New Mexico-native and USL Rookie, Sergio Rivas finds the back of the net in the 28th-minute. United would eventually pull even. Reno 1868 remained steadfast and took the lead once again. It was the second time that United had trailed in a match, but the first time they had entered into the final leg of the match in a deficit. United lost 2-1 to Reno 1868. It was their first loss of the season.
The initial hype surrounding the match was Wehan versus his former club, Reno 1868. By the end of the match, it was Rivas shining in his club’s victory over his home state.
Wehan wasn’t much of a factor in this match taking just two shots on the evening. Only one was on target. The emotions associated with facing a former club is something that Wehan’s club has encountered all season long yielding mixed results.
“It was definitely emotional for me after the game. I was a little bit disappointed on how I handled it. I don’t think that I handled it poorly. I had a good chance that I missed and you know, it was tough,” Wehan said. “It’s kind of hard playing against guys that are your really good friends. Some guys use it as motivation. For me, this second game will be absolutely motivational. It will be easy to play against my friends and my former coach, but that match was hard especially being in Reno,” Wehan added. “It was a good experience and I’m happy that it happened earlier in the season rather than having to wait towards the end of the season to go to Reno. It was a big game for me and I think the fans were great and the reception was very nice for the most part. It was a tough result especially for the team, but hopefully, we can get one back against them this weekend.”
Reno 1868 will be without Brian Brown this time around. Brown was one of the club’s leading scorers. Brown signed a contract with Albania club Partizani Tirana following the Concacaf Gold Cup back in July. Corey Hertzog and Danny Musovski are leading the charge now for Reno 1868. Musovski recently got a double brace in a match against Tacoma Defiance two weeks ago. He was named USL Championship Player of the Week. United have a new target to mark with Musovski in the Starting XI.
”So, as of right now Danny musovski has been scoring a bunch of goals for them up top, which is something that they were lacking for a little bit because they lost Brian Brown. Brown’s absence is a big change,” Wehan commented. “Up top, defensively, they’ve been playing with a few different center back pairings. We don’t even know what we’ll see. We might see the same two guys we first saw or we might see two new ones. we’re not really sure. Hopefully, I can get some of that out of my old buddies,” Wehan laughs. “We know they’re still going to play the diamond shape in midfield, which we have seen before and we have seen from a number of teams especially recently Colorado Springs just played in a diamond in midfield. We know what they’re going to bring in terms of their lineup and their playing style. Their personnel might be a little different from the beginning of the season.
Reno also played out of a 4-4-2 formation in the earlier matchup. Reno has since shifted to a 4-3-1-2 formation. United will be looking to exploit any weak points in Reno’s tactics.
“There are spaces in the 4-3-1-2 when they’re playing with those three in the middle,” Wehan stated. “They are really tight and their space is wide when they bring their outside backs really high. So if we can expose them on the counter-attack with their outside backs as high as they are, I think there won’t a ton of pace at this point. I know that their outside backs have a ton of pace and their center backs not so much. The space is definitely wide of their three in midfield. If the two on the outside are high up and there happens to be just the one holding it’s tough for him to cover a lot of ground without a pairing there so, there are some ways that we can expose them in that formation.”
United’s run of play as of these last two matches has produced 6 goals and allowed only 2 goals. Devon Sandoval scored 2 against OKC Energy and 3 against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. There’s more movement off the ball and chances are being finished.
Recently, Sam Hamilton has stood in as a midfielder for United. This has been a good alternative with Saalih Muhammad being out on a 3-match ban. Hamilton has given United a good look functioning well with Juan Guzman and Toni Soler. Muhammad is due back to the lineup and will have to earn his spot back in the starting XI.
“I told him (Saalih) when he got suspended to stay ready because your number is going to get called again at some point in the season, whether it’s right away or the playoffs,” Wehan said. “So yeah, he’s hungry and it’s really good to have him back.”
United are currently sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference Table with 40 points. Reno 1868 is sitting in 3rd place with 50 points. Both clubs are on a two-match win streak. The win is important for United to secure a playoff spot with the table standings being so tight. United is eyeing one of the top four spots so, they can host a playoff match in their inaugural season. Still, Technical Director and Head Coach Troy Lesesne repeatedly states in post-match pressers that he is only focused on the next match on the schedule.
Wehan wants the win against Reno 1868 for his club’s chance at a postseason birth. He also wants a second shot at his missed opportunity earlier this season against his former club, Reno 1868.
“I’ll be energized and my adrenaline will be up just because I have so much history with those guys on that team and of course, there’s something to prove right,” Wehan exclaimed. “Let’s not kid ourselves, I want to prove to Reno’s sister club, MLS side San Jose Earthquakes, that they made a mistake. I am grateful for my time in Reno. I think Head Coach Ian Russell treated me so well and has respected me as a player,” Wehan added. “I owe him so much credit for my career and where I’m at now. So yes, there’s something to prove and I’d like to score a couple of goals on my old friends and then take them out for a beer after the game and I’ll feel a little bit better about it all.”
Players to Watch
- Corey Hertzog: 14 goals and 6 assists
- Danny Musovski: Scored 5 goals in the last two matches
- Sergio Rivas will not be making the trip to Albuquerque
New Mexico United
- Devon Sandoval: Scored 5 goals in the last two matches
- Chris Wehan: 8 goals (ties his career-high) and 5 assists
Kickoff is at 7:30 pm MT at Isotopes Park.