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Rapid Fire: United’s 2-1 Win Is A Victory On So Many Levels

By Josh Kaskinen | Photo: Josh Lane/NM United

New Mexico United went to Weidner Field on Saturday and did what they needed to do in order to earn three points on the road. 

Saalih Muhammad scores both the first goal of his professional career and the first goal of United’s 2020 campaign with an absolute beauty from distance that caught both the ESPN+ announcer and Switchbacks goalkeeper Sean Melvin off guard. 

Right when it appeared that New Mexico would be taking a one goal lead into the half, Colorado Springs was able to equalize thanks to a goal off the post from Aiden Daniels (who has gotten his hair cut since the season paused).

New Mexico suffered a scare in the second half when George Lebese put a ball past Cody Mizell, but it was ultimately ruled offside. They were able to keep everything else out of their own net the rest of the night, and got some late game heroics from Chris Wehan to put themselves on top for good.

United went 5-7-5 on the road last season leaving 31 points behind on the table for their opponents to climb the table at a nearly even pace. This made for a very close race in the Western Conference as postseason talks started up.

United’s first victory of the 2020 season comes after 126 days of inactivity and gives United 3 points of the 6 points available to them so far. This also extends their unbeaten win streak in the head-to-head series with Colorado Springs Switchbacks to 4-0-0 across all competitions (3-0-0 USL Championship, 1-0-0 US Open Cup).

United’s win percentage on the road last year in USL Championship play was 29 percent and their percentage of walking away with any points on the road was 58 percent. So far in 2020, they are leveled out in both categories at 50 percent.

Here’s my takeaways from the match:

Lineup Versatility:

When the team sheet (and later the injury report) was announced about an hour prior to kickoff, there were a couple of things that jumped out at me:

1- Where’s Josh Suggs?

2- David Najem is playing forward?

With both Justin Schmidt and Rashid Tetteh out of the lineup due to injury, one look at the team sheet shows that Troy Lesesne trusts his guys, even when he has to make adjustments and those guys have to play out of position.

Two of your best defenders are injured? Ok, just move Sam Hamilton back (Hamilton is listed as a defender, but has been playing in the midfield much more frequently lately).

What about the other defender (Najem)? You’re playing wing tonight, buddy. 

Despite the goofiness of it, it was still a strong team sheet, and all of the guys stepped up magnificently to help the team earn the win. 

Now we just have to figure out why Suggs wasn’t listed. Of the 23 men on the roster, only two weren’t listed on the team sheet for obvious reasons (Suggs and Ahlinvi).

Golazo:

At the 25 minute mark in this match, Juan Pablo Guzman collected the ball in the midfield and passed it ahead to Saalih Muhammad. Muhammad himself gave a very impressive through ball to Devon Sandoval, who immediately took a shot on goal. That shot was deflected by Sean Melvin, but it took a huge rebound back out toward midfield, where Muhammad was waiting to volley it directly back into the net. 

I don’t need to say much about Muhammad’s goal. Any fan who was watching knows how impressive it was. It even earned a shoutout from ESPN FC. Many fans were probably reminiscing of Daniel Bruce’s last minute banger against Sacramento last season. Both of those goals have every right to go down as two of the most impressive goals in New Mexico United’s young history.

Could we have already witnessed the USL Championship Goal of the Year? It’s certainly a contender. 

Huge congrats to Saalih on his first ever goal in an NMU Jersey!

The Beez Knees:

New Mexico United fans are well aware of the goal-scoring abilities of Christopher “Beez” Wehan by now, as the former Lobo scored 10 goals in the inaugural season. Of those ten, two were game-winning or equalizing goals. With two of NMU’s top goal-scorers from a season ago no longer on the roster (Kevaugn Frater, Santi Moar), Wehan, along with Devon Sandoval are the clear favorites to take up that mantle this season. Wehan did just that on Saturday with an 87’ goal on low kick that got past Melvin and secured the victory for United. He had another great chance to score earlier in the game as well, but the Switchbacks keeper was able to make a great save on the 51’ effort. If Beez can continue to score as the season goes on, New Mexico should have a great chance at earning a playoff berth.

Subs, Subs, Subs, Subs, Subs:

The following is a list of players who entered the match off the bench for New Mexico United:

  • Andrew Tinari
  • Romeo Parkes
  • Samson Sergi
  • Ryan Williams
  • Daniel Bruce

That is a strong list of players who are able to contribute despite not being named to the starting eleven. With a new set of rules that have been put in place in many leagues throughout the world due to COVID-19, the USL Championship is allowing five subs per match instead of the usual three this season. This change gives Troy Lesesne several options to work with on any given matchday as the season progresses. 

Next Up:

The three points earned on the evening puts United at a tie for second place with the Switchbacks. They’ll take on first-place El Paso Locomotive FC on Wednesday night and again on Friday, July 24. Both of those matches will be played at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas. Stay tuned to Seek and Strike for previews of those matches.

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