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Front & Centre: New Mexico United’s Flexibility Is An Uncontrollable Chaos For El Paso

New Mexico has proven just how dangerous a side they really are in USL Group C by lineup versatility.

By Chris Walker | Credit: Courtesy Photo

Previous Match Recap

New Mexico United (1-1-0) visited El Paso Locomotive FC (1-0-1) at Southwest University Park for USL Group C match play. United went up 1-0 after the first 10 minutes of play due to their efforts of applying a high press. El Paso goalkeeper, Logan Ketterer, found himself outstretched to trap a wayward ball from going beyond him towards the goal, and United’s Chris Wehan recovered the sitter off the dribble for his second goal in two matches and on the season. El Paso would find the equalizer in the 43rd minute as Omar Salgado trailed a through ball across the plain of the 18 and scooped the shot in past United goalkeeper, Cody Mizell. In the closing moments of stoppage time, El Paso had a corner kick deflected up into the air by United’s Sam Hamilton. El Paso’s Bryam Rebellón executes a bicycle kick to put the ball back into play. As the ball ricocheted towards United’s backline, it appeared Salgado made a play at the ball and that Andrew Fox would score the goal to put El Paso up 2-1 heading into the half. During the second half, United would equalize from a Devon Sandoval Penalty Kick that was set up by a foul on Wehan in the box. During the 80th minute, United played with 10 men as Hamilton was sidelined due to a knock he received in play. United managed to defend being at a disadvantage and secure a point on the road.

Full-Time Statistics

ELP: 2 goals, 22 shots, 6 on target, 4 blocked, 2 offside, 81% passing acc, 54.5% possession 

NM: 2 goals, 12 shots, 6 on target, 1 blocked, 2 offside, 78% passing acc, 45.5% possession

United (1-1-1) has 4 points and is in second place and Locomotive FC (1-0-2) has 5 points and remains in first place in the USL Group C Standings.  

United Injury Report

At this week’s Press Conference, Technical Director/Head Coach Troy Lesesne gave a general injury report update. Lesesne stated that Josh Suggs should be available on the Match Day 18 and he’s hoping that Rashid Tetteh can travel to even possibly being available for the Match Day 18. He stated that Justin Schmidt is being further evaluated for a lower-body injury. He also stated that Sam Hamilton may be a little further ahead in his rehabilitation and that David Najem will be out. Any updates to the injury report will be available ahead of match time this evening. 

What Makes United A Dangerous Squad

In three matches, we have seen personnel changes in the defensive third for New Mexico United. This is becoming normalcy to the USL Championship side, but to an eager opponent studying the side, they may struggle to understand how a club can move players around so much and truly still have chemistry on the pitch. 

Kalen Ryden is the only player that has been on the backline the entire time this season. Ryden, who signed with United after winning the USL Championship Final with USL Group C side, Real Monarchs SLC, has alternated from the right and left centre-back position since the side’s match with Austin Bold. Due to both Rashid Tetteh and Justin Schmidt being out on injury, Ryden has been shifted positions to match the strength of the opposition. 

When Ryden was signed, the looming question posed to Technical Director/Head Coach Troy Lesesne was what he would do with three centre-backs. “It’s going to give us more competition at the centre-back position,” Lesesne said during a Media Hour in early February. “It also gives us flexibility in case we want to play three at times.” The addition of Ryden brought on the possibility of a 3-4-3 formation, which we have seen from on the pitch several times this season when United goes on the attack. But with Schmidt and Tetteh being out of the lineup, we haven’t seen what might appear to be the ideal backline for this side. 

Another player missing from the backline is Captain, Josh Suggs. Suggs plays in the left-back position and has at times, played in the left centre-back position as a sweeper last season. Suggs has been out of the lineup due to injury as well. United has surely missed Suggs due to his ability to distribute the ball high up the pitch or go on the attack himself. 

Austin Yearwood has started the last two matches in the left-back position and has also shifted into the left centre-back position as Lesesne has needed. Yearwood got in some quality minutes in the left-back position last season so it was expected for him to be a fit with that position this season. 

Other additions to the backline this season are David Najem and returning from the centre-midfielder position, Sam Hamilton. Najem first appeared for United in the left-back position in the match against Austin Bold. Najem, at times, stood up the back three or he would attack up high whenever Manny Padilla stayed home in the backline. Najem has also featured as a left-winger among the midfielders. Hamilton alternated roles with Rashid Tetteh into the right centre-back position through much of the first half of the 2019 season before Tetteh ultimately became a permanent addition to the backline through the rest of the season. Tetteh has been unavailable due to injury for every match this season. 

Now, with Padilla out on suspension due to an internal investigation the club has been conducting regarding the allegations of sexual assault during his college career while at the University of San Francisco, United also had to fill its right-back position against El Paso Locomotive FC back on July 15, 2020. Since Najem is also well-versed in the right-back position, it was a given Lesesne would fill the vacant position with him. 

Padilla will miss tonight’s match as well. The club has stated that it will reach a decision soon from their internal investigation and that no further update will be provided until that decision has been delivered. 

Some would wonder how United has only conceded 4 goals this season with this remedial version of a backline. 

Yearwood spoke to it at this week’s Press Conference. “The communication on the backline is great, but it’s tough to manage some things that we’re experimenting with back there. But I think we’re all on the same page,” Yearwood said. “So, I think we’re as strong as ever along the backline in terms of communication.”

If anything, United has shown its flexibility to field players into different positions, sometimes into positions they have never played professionally. Onlookers might see this as a vulnerability for Lesesne’s club, but Lesesne sees it as an opportunity for his players to challenge themselves and he is very proud of them. 

“I love the fact that Daniel Bruce comes on and Daniel’s been preparing a little bit to play in the two spot at right-back and that’s the epitome of someone like Brucey,” Lesesne said. Daniel Bruce came on as an early substitution for an injured David Najem in the 25th minute in the match with Locomotive FC and Bruce has never played right back in his professional career. 

“And it’s the epitome of someone like Austin Yearwood. You know, he’s played in two different positions so far for us in the last two matches, left centre-back and in the three at left-back.” 

In the 80th minute of the Locomotive FC match, Hamilton gets a knock that sidelines him and with no substitution available to Lesesne because he exhausted them 10 minutes prior, Saalih Muhammad shifts from the centre-mid position to fill the void in at right centre-back. Muhammad, who recently appeared on USL Championship’s Team of the Week for Week 3 and voted Fan’s Choice for Goal of the Week, has never played in the centre-back position prior to this instance. Locomotive FC brought in Marios Lomas to attack the lane between Bruce and Muhammad. United, down a man, played the next 10+6 minutes trying to preserve the 2-2 draw to win 1 point on the road. 

United’s depth and versatility are a threat to any opponent and it should be recognized. 

Lesesne leans in and reiterates a statement Sandoval made earlier in the Press Conference. “So that goes back to what Devon said. We have a lot of versatility that comes with a lot of great guys from last year, but then also adding guys like Tinari, Romeo, Najey, Amando and you start to see the depth of the squad and the versatility of the squad.”

El Paso Locomotive FC Match Notes

El Paso Locomotive FC is currently sitting in first place in the USL Group C Standings. Locomotive FC has a record of 1-0-2 with a victory over Rio Grande Valley FC and two draws with Orange County SC and the latest with New Mexico United. Locomotive has scored 3 goals by Omar Salgado, Andrew Fox, and Dylan Mares. Mares is Locomotive’s top chance creator with 10 chances. Goalkeeper Logan Ketterer has faced 11 shots on the year with 9 being saved and 2 being conceded as goals from New Mexico United. Ketterer has 2 clean sheets. 

Impact Player(s): Dylan Mares, mentioned above,  is Locomotive FC’s top chance creator and also has a goal himself. Mares also takes the corner kicks for Locomotive and in this past match against United, Mares put the ball in the box, which eventually led to a goal for the side. 

My Projected Lineup

Home Record: 1-0-1

Away Record: 0-0-1

Head-to-Head Record vs. New Mexico United: 1-0-2

USL Championship | 5/12/2019: ELP 2 – 2 NM

USL Championship | 7/31/2019: NM 3 – 0 ELP

USL Championship | 7/15/2020: ELP 2 – 2 NM

New Mexico United Match Notes

New Mexico United is currently sitting in a second-place tie with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the USL Group C Standings. United has a record of 1-1-1 with a victory over Switchbacks, a loss to Austin Bold, and a draw with Locomotive FC recently. United have scored 4 goals on the season. Chris Wehan has scored 2, Devon Sandoval has scored 1, and Saalih Muhammad has scored 1 as well. Cody Mizell has 4 saves on the year and has a goal against average of 1.33. 

Home Record: 0-0-0

Away Record: 1-1-1

Impact Player(s): Chris Wehan has shown through three matches that he is in mid-season form. While he has featured as a chance creator in previous seasons recording assists, Wehan has scored 1 goal in each of the past two matches. Wehan has been highlighted as a player who can take Lesesne’s idea and execute it on the pitch to scale. 

My Projected Lineup

It would be nice to see Josh Suggs and Rashid Tetteh return to tonight’s XI whether they start or substitute.

Coverage Details

USL Championship Week 4 | New Mexico United at El Paso Locomotive FC, at Southwest University Park, El Paso, TX. Kickoff is at 7:30 PM MT. Broadcast is available for stream on ESPN+ and Radio Coverage starts at 5:30 PM MT. on ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team.

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