After more than seven weeks away from Isotopes Park, New Mexico United is set to return to league action tonight against the El Paso Locomotive FC at 7 p.m.
The United couldn’t be more relieved to finally play on familiar turf once again.
“We wish it didn’t have as much of an impact, but it does,” midfielder Daniel Bruce said, referencing the difference between New Mexico’s home and away form. “But playing in our stadium, being able to play with the same style and impetus and momentum that we have at home — it’s irreplaceable.”
The road hasn’t been kind to United. Five away matches since June 15 has seen it outscored 10-5, and the stretch included its worst result to date in a 5-1 shellacking at Las Vegas on June 15. Head coach Troy Lesesne acknowledged that the traveling has taken a toll on his group.
“This June and July stretch has been very difficult, not only results-wise but just the amount we’ve been away,” Lesesne told the Journal. “It’s really tired us out, but being back home is going to really reignite the group.”
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for Lesesne and his men: Of the remaining 14 regular-season matches, 10 will be in Albuquerque, which should serve the club well as the playoff race heats up. Phoenix Rising FC has catapulted to the top of the Western Conference with 44 points and an 11-match winning streak. New Mexico is fifth with 29 points.
United’s most recent match, a 2-1 victory at Sacramento, snapped a winless skid dating to May 5. The margin of victory came from a strike by Bruce in the 89th minute, which was nominated for USL Championship’s Goal of the Week and marked his first goal as a professional.
Bruce entered the match as a substitute and said his long-range, half-volleyed strike was borne out of frustration with his performance early in the contest.
“The balls were kind of bouncing around — I couldn’t really get my foot on it or get much impetus in the game,” Bruce said. “I knew I had to do something, whether it be a cross, whether it be a shot.
“I just kept my head over it, foot through it, and it fortunately managed to curl around and nestle in the back of the net.”
Notably, a recent absence on the pitch for New Mexico has been star forward Kevaughn Frater. The Jamaican has been left out of the lineup for the past two matches, missing the July 13 contest against Fresno FC due to yellow card accumulation and the July 24 game against Sacramento Republic FC.
Lesesne had no comment on the reason for last week’s benching, which suggests a disciplinary move by the club and not the league.
“(It’s) just internal,” Lesesne said. “We’ll leave it at that.”
Defender and Las Cruces native Josh Suggs will have to exercise caution tonight when going in for challenges, as the captain is one yellow card away from receiving a suspension from the league.
New Mexico and El Paso, both with 7-5-8 records, played to a 2-2 draw in Texas on May 12. The United goals came from the unlikely duo of defender Sam Hamilton and midfielder Ryan Williams, with Jerome Kiesewetter notching both tallies for Locomotive.
Lesesne noted that discipline in defense will be crucial in securing three points this time around.
“When they have their full strength and their full roster, I think they’re as good as anybody in the Western Conference,” Lesesne said of El Paso “When we’re out of possession, we have to just be patient and pick and choose our times when to go.”