By Seth Biddulph | Photo: Josh Lane/NM United
United was unable to find a winner despite a 2019 USL Championship season record 36 shots. No longer controlling their own destiny, United will need help to make the playoffs.
On a night meant for football, the stage was set for New Mexico United to make a statement. Their mission: show that they are deserving of a spot in the 2019 USL Championship playoffs.
Within seconds of taking the opening kickoff, Kevaughn Frater showed that they were hoping to shake the nets more than a few times. In front of a smaller than normal crowd, Frater would put his first shot of the night about a yard to the left of the net. He would get a second chance in the fourth minute from the right side of the box, but it was saved by Tacoma Defiance keeper Trey Muse.
Having been eliminated from the playoff picture weeks before, Tacoma Head Coach Chris Little knew that he could afford to play some of his younger talent and keep an eye towards the future. With an average age of just over 18 years old, the Seattle Sounders Academy was on full display. For Little, the decision would pay off early.
Tacoma youngster Azriel Gonzalez would open the scoring in the eighth minute after breaking Juan Pablo Guzman’s ankles inside the box. He would put a left-footed shot off the inside of the far post and it managed to ricochet into the net to put the visitors up early.
Less than a minute later, United would answer with a goal of their own. After a give and go from Devon Sandoval to Frater, the latter would slice through the Defiance back line and put in a shot that forced Muse to make a play on the ball. Unable to corral it, the ball would end up at the feet of Chris Wehan. Unmarked, Wehan would get just enough on the ball to put into the back of the net.
With the action coming fast and furious, the young Tacoma side was showing no fear as they went toe to toe with the more experienced United defenders. Little’s side displayed a high press throughout the entire first half, looking to deny United chances while creating their own.
Alec Diaz would find himself in space in 26th from around 20 yards and was able to put his leg into a shot. Looking to go to the bottom left corner, Diaz forced Cody Mizell into a diving save to keep the score level.
Shortly after, an injury to Aleks Berkolds would force Tacoma to burn an early sub, bringing in Ever Rubio. Even with the forced change, Tacoma remained aggressive. Able to get around Austin Yearwood, Marlon Vargas was calling for the ball as he raced towards the box. The resulting through ball would be out of reach for Vargas and was smothered by Mizell.
United would answer with a run of their own, this one down the left from Yearwood. Running free, Austin was able to get in behind the Defiance defenders, opening space in the box for Frater. Taking one touch to settle the layoff from Yearwood, Frater would attempt to launch one goalwards, but it was blocked.
With only seconds remaining in stoppage time, United was awarded a free kick after Tacoma was signaled for a handball just outside of the box. Both Wehan and Sandoval stood over the ball, but it was Sandoval that would take the shot when play resumed. Sandoval would put a charge into it, but the shot would sail just over the bar.
Out of the half, United would get several looks, but the early attack was ultimately snuffed out when Muse was able to corral a shot from Moar. As the half progressed, United shifted into a press, hoping to force a mistake from Tacoma.
As the match neared the hour mark, Wehan would have two very clean looks at the goal from outside of the box. From nearly identical spots the first would be on target, but Muse wouldn’t have to move to make the save and the second was blocked.
With tension mounting in the park, both sides were feeling the pressure. Tacoma was looking to come away with at least a point and United throwing everything they could at the visitors. In an attempt to try and keep United from finding a second goal, Little would bring on a fifth defender and adjust their formation.
As has become the norm against United, yet another club started going to ground in hopes of slowing them down late in matches. Tonight the tactic didn’t appear to affect United as their attack continued to intensify. The Defiance defensive third became the focal point for the final fifteen minutes of regulation. United had multiple chances as normal time expired and into the announced six minutes of stoppage.
Time after time, United would play the ball into the box only to have Muse or another Defiance player miraculously prevent it from finding the net. In one sequence of play, the ball appeared to deflect off of the chest of Muse while he was behind the goal line, but play was allowed to continue by the referee. With the crowd at a fever pitch, living and dying with every attempt on goal (including those of us in the press box), the United players gave it everything they had in hopes of finding a winner.
Somehow, Tacoma was able to stave off every attempt made by United until the referee signaled for full time. In a match that United desperately need to earn 3 points from, they were unable to do so despite setting a record for the most shots in a single game and tying the record for most shots on target this season.
Player of the Match
Chris Wehan – In a match where so many different players had a chance to earn the honor of player of the match, this week it has to go to Wehan. After pulling the club level early in the match, Wehan went on to create five additional chances and had multiple other attempts blocked or saved.
After picking up his eleventh yellow of the season, Frater will be suspended for two matches. With only one match remaining in the regular season, he will miss out on the Las Vegas Lights FC match this Saturday and the first regular-season match of the 2020 season. USL Championship rules do not allow for a suspension to carry over from the regular season into the playoffs.
United close out the regular season on Saturday night at Isotopes Park when Las Vegas Lights FC makes their first trip to Albuquerque. The match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday, October 19. After the draw tonight, United’s playoff hopes hang by a thread. For United to make the playoffs, they will need to defeat Las Vegas and either San Antonio or LA Galaxy II to lose on Saturday.