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Fall is in the air, and so are United’s playoff hopes

By Seth Biddulph | Photo: BV Photos!

Chile is no longer being roasted and the Balloon Fiesta kicked off. Now, United’s future is in their own hands.

Residents of Albuquerque know what the calendar changing to October means. The annual Balloon Fiesta has begun and there’s a chill in the air. For sports fans, October is one of the best months of the year. Football is underway, the World Series is only weeks away and soccer in the U.S. is barreling towards the playoffs. 

It’s been described by many as the best month of the year. I’m partial to December, but I can see why folks think this way. As recent as a decade ago, my weekends were full of college football and I didn’t miss a single MLB playoff game. Now though my time is spent with the beautiful game. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love those other sports,  but there’s just something about soccer that pulls me to it instead of the others. 

Having a local club has pulled in a lot of folks that may have never seen a match live or even watched soccer before. The result of that here in the metro area is that New Mexico United (10-9-11) has been the hottest ticket in town, and all of the USL. Despite the record crowds that we’ve seen all season long, there was a lower than expected turnout last week against conference leaders Phoenix Rising FC. It has led some to wonder if events such as the Balloon Fiesta are affecting attendance. 

The Seattle Seahawks fans are known as the 12th man and for United, their supporters have become the same thing. The club and the fans feed on each other and without it, United doesn’t perform the same. And they know it.  

Both sides of the equation need to bring their ‘A’ game tonight as United plays hosts to Rio Grande Valley FC (9-15-7). After what should have been a win against Rising FC, the club is poised for one of two things to happen; either build from taking a point off the league leaders or play down to the level of RGV. Supporters are hoping its the former. With United sitting below the playoff line currently, they need to be at their best during a favorable schedule. 

Their next four opponents all sit below them in the table, and two have already been eliminated from playoff contention. A win tonight and United would eliminate RGV. The club just has to play up to their level and not RGV’s. 

USL Championship Player of the Month nominee Devon Sandoval has been on a roll of late. After finishing the month of September with six goals against clubs in the playoff hunt, October could be just as important for Sandoval. Much was made of his mid-season form, leading to supporters (and us at Seek & Strike) to wonder if maybe Devon wasn’t suited for the lead striker role. Sandoval, with a number of assists from Manny Padilla, has silenced the naysayers and has kept United in the playoff discussion. 

Speaking of Padilla, he now has six assists on the season and has experienced a resurgence after some early season issues kept him off the pitch. He has improved his vision on the pitch and has been able to find space to deliver crosses into dangerous areas. If he can continue to showcase his brilliance on the wing, it puts United in a position to fulfill their hopes for the postseason. 

United started strong last week against Rising FC, but couldn’t manage to put the match away despite being able to contain the threat of Solomon Asante and Adam Jahn. Reserve goalkeeper Ben Beaury had a strong performance in his season debut and couldn’t be faulted for the luck of Rising FC. No matter who is in goal this week, United stands a strong chance of winning against RGV FC.

Players to Watch

Devon Sandoval – After scoring six goals in September, Sandoval will look to continue his hot streak. He’s been on the receiving end of several fantastic crosses from Manny Padilla and has been instrumental in the club’s success of late. With Frater possibly having his time managed again, Sandoval could heavily feature in the attack as United look to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Santi Moar – Two weeks ago, Moar finally found himself back on the scoresheet and after serving a suspension against Rising FC, will rejoin the United attack. Moar will play a vital role in helping to open up space from the wing and pulling attention from Sandoval. 

New Mexico United Team Leaders

Goals: Frater (14)
Chances Created: Chris Wehan (54)

Rio Grande Valley FC has defied the predictions of the media and staved off elimination the past two weeks. With two wins against playoff clubs, RGV has shown that there’s still more in the tank and they haven’t given up on their season. 

Currently 15th in the table, RGV has a considerably tougher schedule facing them than United does. It doesn’t help that two of their final three matches are on the road, something they don’t deal with well. With only one win in fifteen road matches, trips to Albuquerque and Oklahoma City don’t bode well for the Toros. 

They aren’t without talent though. Midfielder Isidro Martinez has been a consistent threat this season and will look to draw the attention away from Michael Salazar. The pair have shown that they can pressure opposing clubs. 

Even with their level of talent, RGV won’t have enough to deal with the threats from United. Their best hope will be if United comes out flat and the Toros are able to take advantage of it. 

Players to Watch

Isidro Martinez – RGV’s leader in chances created and assists, Martinez has shown to be a threat all season long. United will have to account for his whereabouts on the pitch. Martinez will be looking to push the pace against the United defense and create chances for Michael Salazar.

Nicolas Corti – The Toros keeper has been inconsistent this season, allowing 28 goals in 16 appearances. While he’s their clear number one, he hasn’t always performed up to that level. He needs to have a solid night against a formidable attack for RGV to have any hope of winning.

Rio Grande Valley FC Team Leaders

Goals: Michael Salazar (10)
Chances Created: Isidro Martinez (62)

The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, October 5. 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 via The TEAM App as well as Estrella TV 7.2.

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