By Thomas Gaudin | Photo: DosPhoto
Welcome to “Red or Green?”: the tactical column that analyzes match performances for New Mexico United.
We break down the performance by analyzing the phases of the game in which United succeeded (given green chile) and those where they were not successful (red chile). Areas, where improvement is needed, are given christmas chile. In this edition of the column, we will be breaking down the July 9th performance of New Mexico United against Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Match Summary: New Mexico United returned home after a brutal three-game road stretch in which they picked up three heartbreaking losses. In a chippy game played on a wet field, United was able to stop their slide and pick up a crucial three points against their red-hot visiting opponents. Switchbacks’ defender Sebastian Anderson was shown red for a takedown of Daniel Bruce in the 53’. United capitalized on the man advantage by scoring two dramatic stoppage time goals to prevent a disappointing draw. Final Score United 3, Switchbacks 1.
Tactics and Lineups: United shocked their fans with a formation change. Instead of their usual 3-5-2, Troy Lesesne opted to employ a 3-4-3 instead. Rashid Tetteh joined defenders Kalen Ryden and Austin Yearwood on the backline. Daniel Bruce and captain Josh Suggs were used as the wingbacks on either side of central midfielders Sam Hamilton (being played in his natural position) and Juan Guzman. Wingers Andrew Tinari and Sergio Rivas were played out of position in more forward roles that supported target striker Brian Brown (also being played in his natural position).
While in defense, this formation was a practical 3-6-1. It was a set-up designed to deal with a fast team that likes to press and that can score in a hurry. Tinari and Rivas were selected for their defensive abilities to drop back and join the midfield foursome. Hamilton’s steady presence sat in front of the backline and stop chances from reaching the centerbacks. Wingbacks were used far more defensively than normal. Ryden’s backline primarily attempted to man-mark their opponents until extra help could arrive, which was delivered in the form of the wider outside backs.
Offensively, this became a narrow 3-4-3. Tinari and Rivas are both normally central midfielders, so they stayed closer to the center of the field. Their position functioned more as dual-attacking midfielders than as true wingers. More width was provided by Josh Suggs and Daniel Bruce when they could get forward. Brian Brown was called upon to play the true number nine role, working as a target man in the box and providing hold-up play in possession.
Switchbacks’ tactics remain largely unchanged from their last meeting with United. They employed a 4-3-3 with their extremely dangerous trio of Ngalina, Barry, and Beckford playing up top. Only two changes were made from their 3-2 victory just weeks ago: Matthew Mahoney was added at right back, and Philip Mayaka replaced former USA midfielder Jose Francisco Torres in the midfield.
Tactically, the Switchbacks continue to be a high-energy opponent. Their front three presses high and is constantly in line with their opponents’ centerbacks. They look to exploit mistakes by using their pace to get in behind and make life difficult for opposing defenses. The midfield and outside backs are all capable of finding their forwards from anywhere on the field when given even an inch of space. When the Switchbacks are in form, they are a tough team to beat.
– GREEN: Set Pieces – United has consistently succeeded all season in creating goals from set pieces. Corners and free kicks are just about their greatest offensive weapons. Set piece prowess was once again on display against Switchbacks. One goal was scored from a free kick when Sergio Rivas opened the scoring. His shot buried Kalen Ryden’s deflected shot in the 16’. Another was scored off of a corner in the 90+1’ that proved to be decisive. Chelo Martinez provided a gorgeous cross that found the head of Azira for his first United goal. As United struggles to create chances to score from open play, their set piece opportunities are crucial in grabbing goals. Hopefully, their success continues as set piece goals will open up the game and allow more space for the attackers to work.
– GREEN: Midfield Control- Against a dangerous 4-3-3 like the one employed by Colorado Springs, it is important to win the midfield battle. Preventing the midfield from getting into a rhythm also prevents the Switchbacks from consistently linking up with their front 3. Lesesne’s new system stepped up and did a marvelous job of disrupting the rhythm of the opposing midfield. Sergio Rivas and Andrew Tinari successfully dropped deep to help overrun midfield areas. Normally a centerback, Sam Hamilton’s presence in the defensive midfield was immense in preventing Switchbacks from creating chances. After his injury, Micheal Azira stepped up to have a big second half.
After the red card, United’s midfield controlled the ball for large stretches of the second half. They only allowed for two moments of real danger and were excellent in possession. Most notably, midfielders were able to consistently pick out Daniel Bruce in space with beautiful cross-field diagonal passes. It was largely their efforts that led to the few dangerous second half chances created before the goal.
– Christmas: Back 3- The backline of United continues to be an enigma. They have up and down moments and matches. Largely, the defense was great against Colorado. The new formation did its job and effectively neutralized Barry and the rest of the front 3. The dangerous center forward could not get free and use his pace to affect the match. Man-marking of each forward slowed Switchbacks down and gave time for the wingbacks to track back and provide help. Even the one goal scored came not from a structural defensive breakdown, but a bad individual error of Kalen Ryden.
Unfortunately, the backline still looked shaky for stretches and would have conceded on more than one occasion without excellent goalkeeping from Alex Tambakis. Tambakis made huge saves at the end of the first half and in the middle of the second half to deny Switchbacks the lead. Most worryingly, the defense looked close to conceding for the final 15 minutes of the first half. Sam Hamilton had provided coverage by locking down the midfield for the first third of the game. It was clear that his injury was noticed by the centerbacks as they struggled to adjust to his absence.
– RED: Chance Creation- The lack of an end product is rapidly becoming the story of the season for United. It doesn’t matter who plays up front. It doesn’t matter how many men are on the field for either team. New Mexico just struggles to create dangerous opportunities from open play.
Tonight’s defensively-minded front 3 was largely invisible going forward. Brian Brown was put in his natural position to start the game but largely failed to make an impact. Service was infrequent from Tinari and Rivas on the wings as they were primarily used defensively. United tried to play mainly through the middle but struggled to consistently get forward.
Once the red card came, United looked better going forward but was still unable to create as many dangerous opportunities as they should have. Daniel Bruce looked dangerous streaking down the sidelines, but few of his chances looked likely to trouble the keeper. Better decision-making from him nets him a goal and an assist. It took substitutions from Lesesne to improve United’s forward play. Additions of Cholo Martinez, Ilija Ilic, and young Christian Nava led to a far more dangerous attack and eventually the knockout goal. Ilic looked far better out wide than as a striker and Nava looked electric in limited minutes. However, regardless of the late goal and quality substitution play, questions still need to be asked of where open play goals will come from. The current attack is frustrating to watch for large stretches of the game and unlikely to score consistently.
– RED: Referee- Normally we keep this about tactics and United’s play, but this column is going to give an honorable mention to the referee’s match control. In a heated game where hard fouls were coming early, the referee has to set the tone to keep things from getting out of hand. The head official tried, but largely failed to do this. 4 yellow cards were shown within the first 30 minutes, but the fouls and fights just kept coming. In the second half, the official largely lost control with hard fouls coming every few minutes. 2 fights, 10+ yellow cards, and 1 red card is not the sign of a well-controlled match. The referee has to be better to keep players safe.