After a promising string of consecutive 3-1 victories recently lifted New Mexico United back into postseason contention, Reno 1868 FC provided the expansion club a glimpse of what that scoreline looks like on the other side.
In front of an announced crowd of 10,518 at Isotopes Park on a mild, breezy Friday evening, United (10-9-10) was denied the first three-match winning streak of its brief existence. New Mexico – at least for the moment – hangs onto its 8th place standing in the Western Conference table with the loss.
NMU head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne noted that the margin of error for his club is becoming slimmer as the season dwindles into its final weeks.
“We’re unfortunately seeing the negative side of that margin of error, but that’s where we are in the season,” Lesesne said after the match. “As (we) come into September and October and you’re trying to make a playoff run, you have to be on the positive side of that.”
New Mexico – true to the script written for much of its inaugural season – controlled possession early and capitalized on a raft of early opportunities to open the scoring in the seventh minute. Devon Sandoval, the protagonist of NMU’s previous two wins, missed his target with an outswinging cross into the box from the right, but Santi Moar was able to corral the loose ball. The Spaniard used a deft piece of skill to send a Reno defender sliding the wrong direction, then cut away from another two to send a low drive past Reno netminder JT Marcinkowski.
The goal was Moar’s 11th of the year, and he gave a one-word response when asked if it would be a boost to his confidence going forward: “Yes.”
United couldn’t close out the first half with the lead, as Reno forward Corey Hertzog leveled from close range into the top right corner with a strong right boot in the 45th minute.
Despite a high press from Reno speeding up United’s decision-making and the disheartening equalizer just before halftime, the home side displayed more composure than it has in the recent past. The sluggishness New Mexico often exhibited over a stagnant summer was replaced by a sharper, more flowing style that was reflected in the first half box score. NMU strung together 269 passes with an 84.8% passing accuracy, besting their season average by more than three percentage points.
It didn’t take long after the interval for New Mexico’s good fortunes to unravel.
The composure shown by United during the first 45 evaporated into the night as Reno took advantage of defensive lapses to net two goals in two minutes. A Brent Richards header following a Reno corner and a through ball to a streaking Hertzog momentarily stunned the Isotopes Park crowd.
Reno was forced to play with ten men in the final minutes after midfielder Kevin Partida dragged down Kevaughn Frater from behind on a breakaway counter in the 80th minute. The advantage ultimately wasn’t enough to break through Reno’s defense, and the visitors coasted to the full three points.
Despite outpacing Reno 556 to 352 in total passes and 86.5% to 75% in passing accuracy, the final score was precipitated by New Mexico’s inability to finish its chances. United ended with 13 shots – with five blocked and only four on target – and Chris Wehan said the match ultimately hinged on two moments.
“The first came on their first goal – in the 45th minute, you just want to close out the half,” Wehan said. “Goals also tend to happen quickly after other goals, so that was a big momentum shift.”