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Front & Centre: Men Amongst Mountains, NM United Are Panning For Points

By Chris Walker | Photo: Amanda & Ulysses Alvarado/S&SCollective

This season continues to replay the finer memories of New Mexico United’s inaugural season.

Memories of goals scored results against certain sides, as well as, long stints on the road. The public health order does is something else, but it lends to the dramatic.

Another weekend is here. The bus pulls up, the players load on, and the real adventure, that being the quest for 3 points, begins. United is in Colorado Springs for tonight’s match and then Wednesday and Saturday the club will travel to Utah.

The Character Of The Crest-bearer

Last season, United played five straight matches away to include their initial Lamar Hunt Open Cup matches, then came home for two matches in league play, and then embarked on a seven-match road stint starting with a fourth-round match against MLS side, Colorado Rapids.

They came away with 7 points in league play and 2 Open Cup victories on their first leg. While at home, they manage to earn 1 point in 2 league matches. They weren’t as lucky on the second stretch as they earned 1 point in league play, 2 Open Cup victories, and a stunning 6-1 Open Cup defeat by the hands of Minnesota United FC.

What does this have to do with the present?

The men inside that bus represent their black and yellow set, the state of New Mexico. They are becoming more self-made each weekend.

While being on the road and establishing identity are some of the things that have stayed the same with this side, the fans’ interaction with the team is changing. What started as purely virtual is evolving to include some in-person activity, while being socially-distanced and mask-wearing is required to participate.

Fandemonium in A Pandemic

For several weeks now, The Curse Supporters Group has coordinated some events to solicit fan participation in support of United’s players and technical staff. It started with the I-25 overpass salute and fan-recorded hype video, to lunch break send-offs, and now included is Adopt-A-Player.

A chance for fans to make a care package for the player or staff personnel they draw from a random selection pool run by The Curse Leadership. The package has a 30 dollar maximum spending budget and some items in these packs range from packaged snacks, beverages, pillows, blankets, even post-match junk food like candy, chips, and soda. They are getting it all from the fans.

Captain Josh Suggs stopped in his stride to get the attention of the fans at Friday’s send-off to address the fans. “We just wanted to say that It really means the world to us, having you guys’ support is everything to us, we’re playing for you and we’ll come back with 3 points,” Suggs said.

Last weekend, hundreds of United supporters bought their 2020 Home Kit, a souped-up edition of the Meow Wolf sponsored kit, which is somewhat similar to the 2019 release only now its outfitted by Puma instead of Adidas.

Post-Phoenix

I’d imagine as the players got settled in on the bus, the image of the excited fan was quickly replaced by a mirrored-reflection of each man’s own self as they enter into their own minds and think about where they’ve come from and where they are headed.

There has been deep reflection since the 5-2 loss to Phoenix Rising FC. For one reason, it’s the second time in the 2020 season, the first since the restart, that United has left the pitch without any points. Their mindset after that match seems to point them in a direction to continue earning 3 points on the road.

“As a defender, giving up 5 goals is not easy to swallow,” Kalen Ryden stated. “It’s definitely something that is unacceptable. So for me after the game, you’re dejected after any loss really, and giving up 5 goals doesn’t make things easier and you talk about only 5 or 6 mistakes, that’s the difference between a good and a great team,” Ryden added.

“That’s 5 or 6 mistakes too many. So we were frustrated with ourselves at the end of the night. Those things could have been avoided. Like you say if you only make 1 or 2 or 3 mistakes it’s a completely different ball game, but we made those mistakes and that’s what really cost us the game.”

Andrew Tinari, one of United’s new Midfielders, chimes in on the same subject. He arguably had one of his best matches of the season against Rising.

“I’d agree with that. At the end of the game it’s not so much looking at them and being like listen they converted on all their chances but it’s more just looking at ourselves and seeing what we did wrong,” Tinari said.

“Again we’re talking about 5 or 6 chances. We can’t allow that to happen, but we’ve also had our chances. We could’ve capitalized on a couple of them as well and it could have been a completely different game as we’re talking about it right now,” Tinari added.

“But again, we’re walking off it’s not feeling like we were intimidated at any point. It’s was just they’re a good team, they capitalized on their chances and we need to fix those little moments and we’re looking at our selves, not anyone else. At the end of the day, it’s getting back to it and seeing what we can do better,” Tinari finished.

Tinari scored his first goal for United off a set piece grounded by Rising and put in off his back heel while both teams were in a scrum. This brought the score to 3-2 before Rising’s Junior Flemmings would put a draw out of reach scoring the final two goals on the night.

After Ryden and Tinari commented, it seemed to give off the impression that a win against a side like Rising wasn’t completely out of the question. Perhaps their comments served as a witness to Technical Director/Head Coach Troy Lesesne’s comments heading into the match about Rising being a team that will punish you if you make any mistakes.

Granted the players have reviewed the game film and discussed what didn’t happen in the match.

But what did Lesesne think about the match result after having a few days to review and reflect on it? Did he think a win was possible barring these preventable mistakes?

“No, that’s not being honest,” Lesesne says boldly. “I think they are moments that are controllables and we can do better. But the mistakes were made and Phoenix was better on the night. You can’t call it any other way when it’s 5 to 2. They executed, we did not. That’s where it starts and stops.

Was That A 3-4-3 in Phoenix?

You saw the team released a graphic on social media and it showed an unusual lineup formation in what appeared as a 3-4-3. Austin Yearwood, Kalen Ryden, and Rashid Tetteh were the back three. The wingers were Saalih Muhammad and Josh Suggs. Based upon the rotation over the past few weeks, the only position that seems out of place is Suggs playing up in a winger position. Not entirely out of the question since he is an attacking piece that is always charging up the lane. It was just how he was positioned.

The graphic that ESPN+ released was the usual 4-4-1-1 stack and by now, we’ve learned to disregard their graphic due to inaccurate formations.

In the press conference, Lesesne reveals that the team was in a 4-2-3-1 so now you have to be wondering if he snapped his fingers and his 3-4-3 transforms into a 4-2-3-1 and back. It’s certainly possible to give the fact that the team starts in a 4-2-3-1 on defense and shifts into a 3-4-3 on the attack.

Lesesne gave us his decision for being in the 4-2-3-1.

“The thought process behind the decision was based on the space we thought we could exploit from both sides and I think what you’re seeing is flexibility between the two systems this year and that maybe allows us to be more unpredictable to the opponent. And again, I look at myself first and I think that we exposed some of that space but maybe we left ourselves a little bit to open to against Phoenix clearly. So that’s where we’ll have to look at it this weekend and see what’s best for Colorado Springs so we make the right decision so we can put ourselves in the best position to get 3 points.

Panning For Points: Switchbacks FC Preview

Oftentimes, United play to their opponent’s level. We’ve witnessed their intense get-up for tougher foes and a much slower exertion against less threatening clubs. Lesesne wouldn’t take any team lightly so maybe it’s not in his blueprint, but rather in the player’s execution. You wonder when the team goes 20 minutes without a chance against teams that are not Phoenix or El Paso Locomotive.

United will have 3 matches in seven days starting today at Colorado Springs followed by Wednesday and Saturday matches at Real Monarchs in Herriman, Utah. So this outdoor adventure brings in the opportunity for 9 points on the road and some real separation on the table.

Switchbacks FC and Real Monarch both sit on the bottom of the standings with 4 points each. Still, United cannot take them lightly as their goal is the same to defend their home and take all 3 points from New Mexico.

“I think our intensity will be there mainly because we want to respond. We want to respond well to how we played against Phoenix,” Ryden said. “But also too with this setup for this season, we’re now playing a team that’s within our group, which those points are even now more crucial. Not that the match against Phoenix wasn’t important or that the 3 points in Phoenix wasn’t crucial, but now even more so to take points away from teams in our group is very important.”

“So now you’re gonna get a switch of intensity I think maybe or maybe a bit more concentration and proper execution because one, we know we’re better than what we showed last Saturday and we want to respond properly, but also two it’s a team in our group and we want to make sure we take all those points away from Colorado (Springs),” Ryden concluded.

COVID Update

The team continues to test negative for COVID 19. They are taking strict protocol seriously.

Injury Report

Everyone is involved in training. Other than Justin Schmidt’s injury, no one else is out on the injured reserve. Formal updates will be provided before tonight’s match.

United is 4-0-0 all-time in the head-to-head series against Switchbacks FC.

Since the two clubs last played, Switchbacks FC signed Colorado Rapids Academy Players Darren Yapi and Vladimir Walent to USL Academy contracts.

Yapi burst onto the scene of the Colorado Rapids Academy, scoring 63 goals since joining in 2016 as an under 12 player.

Walent joined the Colorado Rapids Academy in 2017 as an under 15 player. The Colorado native is a versatile defender and midfielder that can play on both sides of the field.

Both players were in the matchday 18 team sheet two match days ago. So perhaps they may be seen on today’s roster.

Switchbacks FC are winless in their last 3 matches drawing with Monarchs and losing to Monarchs and most recently to Locomotive FC.

Switchbacks FC played out of a 5-4-1 formation last week. More likely to defend against Locomotive’s cross pass inside the 18. This didn’t stop El Paso who put up 4 goals and both were executed from a cross pass in the box. The last time United faced Switchbacks FC, they came out in a 4-4-2.

Players to watch for Switchbacks FC are Aidan Daniels, Christian Volesky, and Uvaldo Luna.

Players to watch for United are Chris Wehan, Amando Moreno, and Romeo Parkes.

United learned in their previous match about giving Switchbacks FC space amidst their backline when Daniels breezed a goal past United goalkeeper Cody Mizell. Volesky and George Lebese also had some quality chances against United as well.

Something that will be different for United is the offensive rhythm they have found as of late and the new goal scorers for the team in Moreno, Parkes, Joris Ahlinvi, and Andrew Tinari. Today’s match has the potential to be a high scoring match for that reason.

Today’s match will be broadcasted on KOAT Channel 7 and will feature United’s Home Broadcasting Team of Tyler Ortega and Chris Hurst. Kickoff is at 3 pm MT. As always, you can tune into 101.7 FM on your radio or ESPN The Team app for the Live Call done by Andy Hageman and Adam Diehl.

After the match, you have The Curse Call-In Show featuring David Carl from The Curse and Chris Walker from Seek & Strike Collective. They will be taking your calls about the match. That starts 30 minutes after the match on 101.7 ESPN The Team.

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