For the Eastern side of the USL Championship playoff bracket, the clubs are coming into focus. Unfortunately for New Mexico United, the Western Conference postseason picture remains far from clear.
United (10-8-10) is scheduled to play Reno 1868 FC (15-5-8) at Isotopes Park Friday at 7:30. It’s one of six matches remaining in the expansion club’s season and the outcome could be crucial with regard to whether New Mexico earns a home playoff slot or drops out of the postseason entirely.
Currently in eighth place, NMU can end up anywhere from second to 16th in the West. If United hopes to capitalize on a recent run of poor form by many of its conference rivals, head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne said better concentration over the full 90 minutes will be key.
“A lot of teams say that, so it’s a little generic, but it’s true: We turn off for a second when goals are scored,” Lesesne said. “We aren’t making teams break us down often enough or making it hard enough on the opponent. Our level of concentration has to be there throughout the full 90 minutes in order for us to come away with a clean sheet.”
Keeping opponents off of the scoresheet has been a consistent issue for the fledgling club. Through its first 28 games, United has only three clean sheets. Nevertheless, New Mexico’s two most recent matches – 3-1 victories over Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs – have engendered a self-assuredness that makes clean sheets almost a moot point, according to Lesesne.
“I’ve been really happy about the amount of chances we’ve limited opponents to recently – particularly against Oklahoma City,” Lesesne told the Journal. “Regardless of whether it’s a clean sheet or not, (that will) put us in a position to win the game because we score a fair amount for the most part. It continues to be a focus, and it continues to be a talking point for us.”
Reno also presents an opportunity for New Mexico to improve its form for what looks to be the most difficult match of the season Sept. 28 against visiting Phoenix Rising FC. Albuquerque native and UNM alum Devon Sandoval, on a recent run of goal-scoring prowess with five in his last two matches, said his club is prepared.
“We’re just trying to keep improving looking forward to Reno,” Sandoval told the Journal. “At this point, every game’s important: We gotta take advantage of them all, and that starts tomorrow.”
“We studied the film, worked really hard this week in training, so we’re feeling ready.”
MATCH NOTES: United will be without midfielders Josh Goss and Ryan Williams, who are unavailable because of unspecified lower-body injuries. Juan Pablo Guzmán, Santi Moar, Williams, Josh Suggs and Kevaughn Frater are one yellow card from receiving a league suspension for accumulation.