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The Knighted Front: NM United Must Convert Chances and Defend the Lead

New Mexico is winless in the last 5 matches. Tonight, they can break the streak and earn a playoff berth.

By Chris Walker | Photo: Adam Nish/SSCo

New Mexico United comes into tonight’s match against Las Vegas Lights FC in the same sort of fashion as they entered their inaugural season, with all eyes on them. All fanbases in the Western Conference of United Soccer League Championship will be tuning into this match. United has left an imprint in professional sports this year in a dramatic fashion. 

Early in the season, the club took Phoenix Rising FC to the limits of regulation drawing 3-3 in full time. New Mexico never trailed in that match. During the Lamar Hunt Open Cup run, United and Rising FC resumed where they left off, but the match ended in a draw. Though, United won on penalty kicks and knocked off Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and MLS side Colorado Rapids, and MLS side FC Dallas, before ultimately ending their run to a 6-1 loss by the hands of MLS side Minnesota United FC. More recently, Rising FC visited The Lab and United commanded a 2-0 lead over the visitors. United conceded two goals and the match ended in a draw.

The season has had its highs and it has had its lows. United went from the top of the table to the middle in a matter of matches. Dual competitions between Open Cup and USLC play took a toll on United’s regular season standing, while other teams in the West benefited from their ambition. United has missed out on 41 points since its June 5 match against OKC. The club’s record is a collective 4-9-7 from June until tonight’s match against Lights FC. Many injuries have plagued the team, as well as, match suspensions that have slowed down any momentum United’s club has tried to build up for themselves.

I interviewed Beautiful Game Network’s (BGN) LV Lights FC writer Carson Merk via email to preview tonight’s match. Carson is also one-of-three hosts on The Other Football Podcast, which is on all major Podcast platforms.

Chris Walker: What does Lights FC do very well? 

Carson Merk: With skilled wing players like Tabort Etaka Preston and Ferrety Sousa combining with Irvin Parra, the Lights can really get out on the counter. They don’t typically hold a lot of possession, but they can change the game on the break.

CW: Why is Lights FC struggling on the road this year? (Lights are 2-10-4 on the road)

CM: That’s the million-dollar question, huh? I think it’s probably a combination of missing that crowd energy at Cashman Field and also early in the season they didn’t play conservatively enough on the road. Also, they are a very inexperienced team at this level and that definitely plays into the struggles away from Sin City.

CW: How do you like Lights chances to score despite road results this year?

CM: I don’t expect them to go into New Mexico and light up the scoreboard, but with their style, they can always find a random goal.

CW: How well does Lights respond to the press? 

CM: Having that counter-attacking style, the press doesn’t really hinder their game plan. They have solid passing in the back with both their defenders and goalkeeper Thomas Olsen and don’t typically have bad giveaways there. If they lose the ball in the midfield or the attack, they have the ability to simply drop back and defend.

CW: How does Lights respond to teams that pass the ball around a lot? 

CM: They allow the other team to hold possession. As I mentioned, they are not a club that typically holds a majority of possession. They will put a decent amount of pressure on the ball and when they take the ball, by way of tackles or interceptions, they flip the pitch in a hurry. 

CW: Who are the standout players for Lights FC?

CM: In goal, Thomas Olsen is arguably the best player on the pitch for Lights FC. Irvin Parra is the club’s all-time leading scorer and can do some damage. But the guy I would highlight is the aforementioned Sousa. He has come on strong lately and is incredibly skillful on the wing. He tracks back in defense, uses pace and dribbling ability to push the attack, and has great quality passing in the final third.

CW: What does Lights run of play look like since the first meeting with New Mexico? 

CM: Starting with that surprising win, their form is always unpredictable. I’ve gone into matches expecting them to win and they lose or expecting them to get blown out and they win or draw. This team is soooooo difficult to get a read on. 

CW: Jackpot: Your Score Prediction?

CM: 3-1 New Mexico. This match means a heckuva lot more to NMU and that is a tough place to play. Maybe a little revenge for the summer blowout, too?

Last Thoughts

Tonight’s lineup should look different than the first meeting between these teams.

In the earlier match, Frater came off the bench at 57’ and Wehan came off the bench at 75’. Josh Suggs, Sam Hamilton, and Justin Schmidt were not in the match.

Lineup Prediction: Wehan, Sandoval, Moar, Hamilton, Muhammad, Estrada, Suggs, Schmidt, Tetteh, and Padilla with Mizell in the cage. Frater got his 11th yellow in Wednesday’s match so he will be sitting out of tonight’s match.

United must have crisp passing through the lanes tonight. Lights FC intercepted 12 passes in the earlier match and scored on chances created from the turnovers. I’d imagine Technical Director & Head Coach Troy Lesesne has addressed the importance of passing accuracy tonight. 

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