Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico United has long been acquainted with the scorching temperatures of the high desert sun. This time, United couldn’t handle the heat.
New Mexico fell 2-0 to visiting Orange County SC on Sunday afternoon, as its leaky defense again proved to be its downfall in front of an announced crowd of 12,873 at Isotopes Park.
As the temperature hovered around the high 90s at kickoff, teasing clouds provided intermittent reprieves on the sunbaked pitch. United midfielder Juan Pablo Guzmán said his club prepares in similar conditions, so it was no excuse for a poor performance.
“We train in the heat at a hot part of the day,” Guzmán said. “It’s not ideal or the best conditions for running a lot, but it’s not an excuse for us at all.”
Patience in possession and few opportunities for quick counters established the tenor of the first 45 minutes. Both sides – perhaps as a corollary of the oppressive heat – sat back and absorbed pressure, waiting to capitalize on miscues and for opportunities to counter. Orange County (9-8-9) controlled the majority of first-half possession at 55.8%, but United (8-8-10) edged out the visitors in shots on target with a tally of three to two.
New Mexico netminder Cody Mizell came up with a tremendous save in the 23rd minute. Orange County forward Michael Seaton collected a threaded ball from Michael Orozco at the right edge of Mizell’s 18-yard box and had a free look at the goal, but the Georgia native came off his line and smothered the chance.
The pitch at Isotopes Park was less problematic than it was for New Mexico’s previous home match on Aug. 17 against LA Galaxy II. The Isotopes baseball team, the stadium’s primary tenant, has completed its league season and will no longer require the temporary turf laid over the infield to be removed. It wasn’t immediately clear if the club or stadium personnel will utilize a more permanent turf covering for the remainder of United’s season.
Orange County took advantage of weak lateral defending around the New Mexico box early in the second half, scoring twice in the span of three minutes. Midfielder Jerry van Wolfgang caught United ball watching and scored from the left perimeter of the box before Seaton executed the same feat from the opposite side.
In a postmatch press conference, New Mexico head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne lamented what he called the “easy opportunities” his club afforded to Orange County.
“We can’t give up easy opportunities and easy goals like they had,” Lesesne said. “It’s a disservice to what our back four does and what Cody (Mizell) does. It’s one of the first periods in the whole entire year where we’ve gone two games in a row without scoring a goal.”
Lightning strikes in the vicinity of Isotopes Park led referee Luis Guardia to call for numerous lightning delays, and a steady exodus of supporters in the second half left swaths of the stadium uncharacteristically empty.
Waves of pressure from New Mexico inundated Orange County in the final 20 minutes, but stout defending and several key stops by goalkeeper Carlos López preserved the shutout for the visitors. Communication in the attack seemed lackluster, and United’s poor first touches and final balls would eventually doom Lesesne’s men.
New Mexico plays next at Oklahoma City, taking on Energy FC on Sept. 8 at 5 p.m. in its second-to-last road match of the season.
LOOKING AHEAD: The path to the playoffs for the majority of USLC Western Conference clubs remains nebulous.
New Mexico slipped to 12th in the 18-team table, two places below the playoff line. Even so, only five points separate United from fourth-place Austin Bold FC.
MIZELL FAMILY EXPECTING NEW ADDITION: New Mexico keeper Mizell said in an Instagram post on Aug. 30 that he and his wife Lisa are expecting their first child in February 2020.
The 27-year old USL Championship journeyman has started in goal for every United league match in their inaugural season, recording 2,340 minutes and three clean sheets in 26 games.