United’s “King of the Road” mentality has not only given them a road-tested label, it is has also rewarded them with a spot in the USL Playoffs
By Chris Walker | Photo: SSCollective
Thursday morning, for some of New Mexico United’s fans, seemed a bit disjointed in the fact that they woke up to the news that rivals, El Paso Locomotive FC, clinched a playoff berth in Group C with its 2-1 win over Colorado Switchbacks FC and Real Monarch’s 2-1 loss to Portland Timbers II. Disappointment was hot to the touch, like that of coffee first-sipped at 240 degrees fahrenheit, before first letting it cool so that it was a bit more bearable upon initial contact.
“Not the outcome I wanted, but not surprised,” United fan Jessica Patterson-Hill sharply wrote as her response, at United’s Facebook Community, to her initial inquiry on how Locomotive’s match result had ended. She went to bed Wednesday evening with the playoff picture canvassed on her mind. Patterson-Hill was concerned that a Locomotive win would hurt United’s playoff chances. That’s because she didn’t realize that United had also clinched a playoff position as well.
Many United Soccer League sides in the Championship clinched playoff spots as results took shape.
In fact, many fans didn’t realize that United also clinched a playoff berth at the same time as Locomotive. It wasn’t being talked about that way in the community threads or across team communications. United fans were affixed on the prospect of Monarchs losing their match and United winning at their “home away from home” match on Saturday afternoon. Much of the conversation in United-focused dialogue painted the same picture for the fans. Whereas, Locomotive fans were focused on a win over Switchbacks FC and a Monarchs’ loss in the evening.
United sat on top of Group C with 23 points. Locomotive won their match, playing their 1 match in-hand, moving them to the top of the group with 24 points.
What made it possible for both sides to clinch in the same evening?
Switchbacks FC’s loss positioned them at the bottom of the table with 8 points and 12 points they could earn for a total of 20 points. So they were eliminated on the spot. Switchbacks FC were in position to earn 1 point as of half time because the score was knotted at 0-0. Locomotive put up 2 goals on Switchbacks FC and while they managed to score 1 goal, they couldn’t find the second to draw it even.
Monarchs were sitting with 10 points and the live statistics table changed its projection as the score changed in the evening. So as 0-0 score (1 pt) became a 1-0 Monarchs’ lead (3 pts) and a Timbers II equalizer 1-1 (1 pts) and lastly Timbers scored the game-winning goal (0 pts), Monarchs would not pick up any points.
This kept Monarchs at 10 points after 12 matches with only 12 more points they could earn for a total of 22 points. So, they were also eliminated from playoff consideration. Locomotive and United had just cleared the line by 1-2 points respectively.
United fans know all-too-well about depending on other teams to help playoff chances.
United’s inaugural season saw the side peak early in the USL and hold high positions on the Table standings. They were also competing into deeper rounds of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Tournament. Until their Open Cup run started to hurt their standing in the Championship standings and United fell in their positioning as playoff talks started to commence. Locomotive, who did not advance far in the Open Cup, managed to secure the sixth playoff spot, which guaranteed them a home match in their inaugural season.
Meanwhile, United managed to drop points in 4 of their final 5 matches of the season. In fact, they needed Switchbacks FC, who held the worst record in the USL at the time, to draw with San Antonio FC or to at least win their own match against Las Vegas Lights FC. By half time of their match with Lights FC, United had learned of the draw between San Antonio and Switchbacks FC and their play-in berth was sealed. United snuck into the postseason with the tenth seed.
The play-in match would give the winners of the matches played amongst seeds 7-10 the chance to enter into the playoff round as a total of eight teams can only qualify for playoffs in each Conference.
United lost 2-1 to Sacramento Republic FC and did not earn an invite to the playoffs.
So as the haze settled on Thursday morning and United’s team-generated “Clinched” graphic spread around the fans’ social media accounts, that feeling of disdain from the 2019 season shed like old skin. United clinching a playoff spot without playing a match is really a true reflection of their drive this season. They have managed to lead Group C, up until this point, while playing all of their matches on the road this season.
No other team in the USL can claim the “road warrior” title for the 2020 season.
United is poised to bring the Championship Cup back to New Mexico. Even if that means playing all of their matches on the road. United’s Owner and President, Peter Trevisani, has said this time after time at several engagements throughout the season.
From Dreams to Reality
Well, Thursday morning at 10:00 am, it became more than a dreamt-up moment in a campaign speech. It became a reality for the side. United announced, via their social media accounts, that the remainder of its regular season matches would be played on the road. Fans on Facebook met United’s announcement with messages of support in the comments section.
“We’ve got this! We’ve been doing great on the road so far!!,” Alex Mirabal responded in excitement.
“We got this!!! So proud of this team,” Ata Bahadir exclaimed.
United will only have three matches remaining on their 2020 regular season schedule after today’s contest with Switchbacks FC. They will face Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (Group D), derby rival, Locomotive FC (6th Edition of Derby Del Camino Real), and Monarchs.
As of Thursday, September 17, RGV FC announced that its previously scheduled match set to be played today, September 19 against FC Tulsa had been postponed. Meanwhile, they managed to reschedule a match postponed earlier in the season with Austin Bold FC, due to one of the club’s covered persons testing positive for COVID-19, to occur on Wednesday, September 30. In addition to their statement regarding the scheduling of the Bold match, they addressed the FC Tulsa match as well.
“Due to the unique circumstances involving fixture congestion and the duration of the regular season, the match will only be played if FC Tulsa’s playoff position is affected in Group D. The matchup will then be played following the regular season,” RGV FC stated on a graphic on their Twitter account.
Currently in Group D, FC Tulsa is sitting with 16 points (max 28), Bold FC is sitting with 15 points (max 27), and OKC is sitting with 9 (max 21).
United is scheduled to play RGV FC on Wednesday, September 23. There has been no official statement released by RGV FC or United regarding the match at this time. As of now, the match is important to determine the final standings with Locomotive FC in Group C.
The Picture in Group C
Locomotive FC currently sit with 24 points (max 36) and United sit with 23 points (max 35).
Both sides have 4 matches remaining.
United will have played 2 of them prior to their meet up at Southwest University Plaza on September 26 and Locomotive will have played only 1 match.
United must win both matches to keep their hopes of finishing first alive.
United may have clinched their spot in the playoffs, but the players know their work is far from over. It’s all in their hands from this point forward and that’s how they like it.