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First-place United faces tough test vs. stingy Sacramento

A nit to pick about the New Mexico United’s dazzling debut season, which continues Saturday night at Isotopes Park against Sacramento Republic, is that five times during its 6-1-7 start a second-half lead ended up in a draw.

But the draw is a cup half full, adding a point for United’s place in the standings, which is atop the Western Conference of the United Soccer League Championship division. The edge over second-place Portland Timbers 2 is 25 points to 22, though Portland (6-2-4) has played two fewer matches than United and thus will have two more opportunities to make up ground. So do, for that matter, the four teams (Phoenix, Reno, Fresno, El Paso) next in the conference standings, all at 5-2-5.

And did we mention that this USL regular season goes 34 games, continuing through mid-October?

Sacramento comes in at 5-5-3, its most recent bout a 2-1 win over San Antonio FC. Its goalkeeper, Josh Cohen, has yielded only 14 goals and has four shutouts this season.

He figures to be a good matchup for United and its league-best offense, led by the 1-2 punch of Kevaughn Frater (a Championship-high 10 goals) and Santi Moar (next with nine). Both went goal-less in Wednesday’s home 1-1 tie with OKC Energy, in which the guests converted in the 73rd minute to draw even.

United has a 24% conversion rate and an 80% passing accuracy rate that is good for the fourth highest in the league.

Sacramento figures to look to leading scorer Cameron Iwasa (five goals) for offensive production.

NOTES: According to soccerstadiumdigest.com, United’s average home attendance through five matches, at 12,299, was best among the 36 USL Championship division teams coming into the week. With an announced 13,574 at Wednesday’s match, United’s average grew to 12,512. … United captain and defender Josh Suggs, who had made 13 starts, is out Saturday with knee inflammation. The club, which has depth at the position, is taking caution and is optimistic Suggs will be back soon.

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