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New Mexico United fills up Isotopes Park, shuts out San Antonio, moves into first place

New Mexico United’s Devon Sandoval celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal against San Antonio FC. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Well they summited the mountain. Now they just have to stay there for another 24 matches.

United Soccer League expansion team New Mexico United (4-1-5) moved into first place in the Western Conference with a 3-0 win over San Antonio FC (3-5-1) in front of an announced crowd of 15,023 festive Cinco de Mayo fans at Isotopes Park on Sunday evening.

“I felt like that was our most complete 90 minutes of the season,” New Mexico United technical director Troy Lesesne said. “With Kev and Dev it gives us a little different look. Luckily we’d scored a goal early on.”

Former Eldorado High School star Devon Sandoval opened the scoring in the 9th minute off an inviting back post assist from striker Kevaughn Frater.

Frater was the outlet on a quick strike counter. He split the San Antonio defense off the dribble before setting Sandoval up for the simplest of tap-ins.

For the game, San Antonio fired 14 shots but only three on target.

The visitors posted respectable passing and possession stats in the box score, but struggled breaking the United press and keeping the ball, ultimately posing too little threat to justify a point.

“We knew going into the game they had three really good runners and one of our focuses was on moving the line,” United defender Sam Hamilton said. “We really are a collective unit.”

San Antonio’s best chance came off a strong half-field gallop from Brian Gomez in the 48th minute. But his final shot merely stung the gloves of NMU goalie Cody Mizell.

New Mexico nibbled around the San Antonio penalty area early in the second half looking certain to kill the match with another goal. Former Lobo Chris Wehan’s ponderous crosses and slicing runs fizzled but his industrious efforts were rewarded in the 59th as he swept home off a diagonal feed from Santi Moar.

“We have weapons all across our attack,” Wehan said. “We wanted to set the tone. We wanted to dictate the game. We let that known at the start of the half.”

Moar was too unselfish in the 61st, trying to lay off for Frater instead of steaming to goal himself for the finishing blow. But he ignited a counter to secure the result in the 63rd picking out Wehan near midfield.

Wehan played a give-and-go with Frater roaring past a deflated San Antonio defense to complete his brace.

United is alone atop the table with 17 points. New Mexico is one of three teams to play 10 matches.

“I look at the standings every once in awhile,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t sure we would be this good this early.”

HONORING SCHMIDT: Hopefully you weren’t planning on a craft project involving yellow fabric. Because “The Curse” (the official supporter club of New Mexico United) bought in bulk.

The Curse and New Mexico Rush vice president Steve Kraemer split the $1,000 tab for the material. They also teamed up to cut the strips into 10,000 armbands given away to fans.

The players wore armbands to honor Justin Schmidt, who is away from the team after his father’s death.

The fans wanted to join in solidarity with the Albuquerque native.

“We’re part of a soccer family, and we’re a family that takes care of each other, especially in bad times,” Curse founder David Carl said. “[Justin Schmidt] is one of the leaders of the team. I look at him as an inspiration for New Mexico kids.”

A GoFundMe page for the Schmidt family has raised over $21,000 in four days. The Curse collected donations during fan events and tailgates.

Kraemer credited staff at JoAnn Fabrics for a discount purchase price and  armband fabrication advice.

Schmidt played for New Mexico Rush for six seasons. Kraemer coached Justin’s younger brother Jason for five years.

He described Justin’s parents as some of the nicest people he’d ever met.

“You can’t really do anything for their family, but you want too,” Kraemer said. “It all came together because people care.”

Fans wrote messages of love and support on their armbands.

“I’m hoping we can maybe save a fair amount of them and send them to them,” Kraemer said. “We got 15,000 people thinking about you and your family.”

New Mexico United players sport T-shirts and armbands in support of their teammate Justin Schmidt,, who lost his father in a tragic accident. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)