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United’s U.S. Open Cup run comes to an end

Andrea Oyler (center) celebrates with other fans at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza during a watch party as New Mexico United scored in the first 3 minutes of play in their U.S. Open Cup match against Minnesota on Wednesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The magical run of the New Mexico United literally went up in smoke Wednesday night.

Each time the Minnesota United scores a goal at Allianz Field, a smoke canister is shot. And there was a lot of that going on in Minnesota’s resounding 6-1 win in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

NMU captivated plenty of soccer fans with four road wins in the cup, two over MLS teams. But another upset from the first-year USL team didn’t happen before an announced crowd of 12,401.

“It was a reality call,” said United forward Santi Moar. “We aren’t in that league yet. We don’t have the budget they have. We don’t have the stadium they have.”

Still, Moar gave United fans something to cheer about when he scored in the seventh minute on a nifty pass from midfielder Chris Wehan for a 1-0 lead. Wehan had made a short pass to forward Devon Sandoval on a corner kick, and he passed it back to Wehan, who found Moar.

About 400 NMU fans were hand, most dressed in yellow in one corner of the stadium. They were ecstatic after Moar’s goal.

“It was emotional, and I think obviously you felt that excitement with that first goal,” said United owner and president Peter Trevisani.

The excitement ended in a hurry. Minnesota tied the score 1-1 in the 10th minute and by the 23rd minute the margin was 4-1.

“It felt like every chance they had, it was going in,” Moar said. “Every goal was feeling like a punch in the stomach at that point,”

Just before halftime, Minnesota forward Angelo Rodriguez scored to extend the lead to 5-1. That gave Rodriguez a hat trick before he was taken out midway through the second half.

With the game all but over at halftime, it was a listless second half. Minnesota added one more goal to account for the final margin.

“I think when we look at tonight’s match, the thing that we’ll have regrets about are making mistakes and not being able to transition to defense quick enough whenever we make those mistakes,” said NMU coach Troy Lesesne. “And when you’re playing against a team like this with this kind of kind of potent attack, you can’t do that and they punished us for it.”

The United on Wednesday were without star forward Kevaughn Frater, who sat out due to yellow card accumulation. That obviously didn’t help, but Lesesne had little to complain about when it came to his team’s dramatic cup run.

NMU won twice on penalty kicks and once in extra time and was one of just two USL teams to make the final eight. The other one, St. Louis, lost 2-0 Wednesday to Atlanta in a quarterfinal.

“My message to (the players) is, one, extremely proud of them, and that they should hold their heads high and the belief and the hope that we have instilled in about what the New Mexico United is about and what New Mexico the state is about during this run is incredible,” Lesesne said. “And no one can ever take that away from us or them. So, just incredibly proud of the group.”

Despite the loss, Sandoval, an Albuquerque native, mostly looked on the bright side.

“It was a great run for sure, and we can hold our heads high,” he said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the result that we wanted. … This tournament is like the biggest opportunity to play on the national scale and we beat two MLS sides. We can take a lot away from this tournament.”

After the game, NMU players went over to their fans and thanked them for coming. Sandoval called their support “unbelievable.”

NMU gained plenty of respect during the cup. Some came from Minnesota coach Adrian Heath, who had said before the game he wasn’t going to take this USL team lightly and wouldn’t rest any starters.

“I want to congratulate New Mexico,” Heath said. “I think they have done incredibly well, really well coached. I think Troy has a really big future in the game. I thought their support was fantastic. They will be really disappointed with the score line, but they can be proud of what they’ve done in this competition considering it’s a first-year club.”

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