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United look to pick up three points on the road, remain in playoff hunt

New Mexico’s future is in their own hands. Can they avoid the upset against the already eliminated Roughnecks FC?

By Seth Biddulph |Photo: Josh Lane

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about—playoffs?! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game! Another game!” – Jim Mora

Every time we’ve talked to Head Coach Troy Lesesne about his message to the players about the possibility of making the playoffs, this quote from Jim Mora springs to mind. To be fair, United isn’t in the same place that the 4-6 Colts were at the time of that quote. They are, however, currently sitting on the outside looking in after Friday’s results. Only three matches remain and everyone, from the club to the supporters, knows what’s on the line. 

A modest two-match winning streak in September gave a glimmer of what could be for United. Since then, they’ve unexpectedly dropped points to Phoenix, Reno, and RGV. Everyone is hoping that the same doesn’t happen against three of the worst clubs in the league. 

New Mexico United (10-9-12) is hoping to pick up a much needed three points on the road against Tulsa Roughnecks FC (7-15-10). If United is able to pick up nine points from the remaining three matches, there’s a chance they would avoid the play-in round, but they would need help from elsewhere in the conference for that to happen. The most likely scenario is landing a spot in the play-in round. 

No matter what, United knows that they can’t drop points. A loss would be devastating since they have a match in hand on many of the clubs around them in the table. A draw wouldn’t be as bad, but it would certainly put a damper on their outlook.

Early in the season, fans were excited about going 2-1-2 over five matches. Now though, that run of results has created some unease among the supporters and left them wondering if United has what it takes to be a playoff club. In the first week of a very favorable four-match stretch, United arguably played down to the level of RGV and had to come from behind to secure even a single point.

United stands to turn that around this weekend against Tulsa, one of the weaker sides in the Western Conference. The first meeting between the two resulted in the first win in club history. On that night, Devon Sandoval and Santi Moar led the charge and look to do the same this weekend. Sandoval, the USL Player of the Month for September, will look to continue his late-season surge while Moar is trying to recapture his early-season magic, 

More importantly, though, the club is looking to put together some momentum to propel them into the playoffs.

The biggest factor in the outcome will be whether or not United can convert the chances they create. Manny Padilla has been a catalyst in recent weeks, taking up the assist leader mantle from Chris Wehan. The duo has exhibited very different playstyles, but both have been effective. United will need to spread the pitch and find ways to work the ball into the box in order to create chances for Sandoval and Moar.

The biggest threat that United will face this weekend will be the attack of Rodrigo da Costa. Tulsa’s leading scorer has been dangerous out of the midfield, also leading the club in assists. Should Sam Hamilton feature in the midfield again for United, da Costa will have a tough time finding room to roam between the boxes. Between his stellar defensive play and the form of Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh, United has a very good chance of coming out of Tulsa with all three points.

Player to Watch

Chris Wehan – Wehan has become a catalyst for the club but has had a few off weeks. Tulsa provides Wehan the perfect opportunity to be creative and dangerous on the pitch. With the right game plan, Wehan could find himself back on the scoreline

New Mexico United Team Leaders

Goals: Kevaughn Frater (14)

Assists: Padilla (7)

Tulsa didn’t expect to find themselves outside of the playoff picture this year. After a very strong early season, they’ve fallen off drastically. Being eliminated from the playoffs may have given them a license to play looser. They’ve scored eight goals in their last five matches and picked up wins over two playoff contenders. 

Tulsa, like other clubs, will hope to catch United out of position. That task though has become harder for opponents to do the later it gets in the season. Their best option for doing it comes in the form of Rodrigo da Costa. 

Defensively Tulsa has their work cut out for them. Trying to stop what has become one of the most potent attacks in the USL will be a tall task for one of the most porous defenses in the league. 

Player to Watch

Luca Lobo – The talented Roughnecks defender may have cooled off in the attacking third, but defensively he’s been one of the bright spots for them this year. Lobo will be instrumental to the game plan if Tulsa has any hope of stopping the many weapons from United.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC Team Leaders

Goals: da Costa (9)

Assists: da Costa (13)

The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 6:00 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, October 12. 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.

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