With only two weeks remaining in New Mexico’s United’s expansion season, the club occupies a peculiar space in the USL Championship table – one coveted by many other lower-tier teams in the Western Conference.
To wit: Though United (10-9-11) goes into tonight’s matchup with Rio Grande Valley FC just below the playoff line in 11th place, its postseason fates are entirely in its hands.
Irrespective of results around the league for the remainder of the season, New Mexico would be guaranteed a playoff spot by capturing ten of the 12 points available in its remaining matches. In a convenient scheduling twist, United’s last four games also come against two clubs already eliminated from playoff contention and two others with grim hopes indeed of postseason qualification.
Rio Grande Valley (9-15-7) would see its playoff hopes snuffed out with a loss Saturday night, while New Mexico’s next two opponents – Tulsa Roughnecks FC and Tacoma Defiance – suffered their own ignominious playoff eliminations weeks ago.
Even so, United head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne told the Journal his club can’t afford to grow complacent against RGV – and indeed, for New Mexico’s three subsequent matches – with such little margin for error in a crowded conference table.
“I looked at (RGV’s) last two performances (3-1 and 2-0 wins over Real Monarchs SLC and Orange County SC), and they showed up in a big way and got two good results against two very good teams,” Lesesne said. “(Tonight’s match) is going to be a difficult one, for sure.”
The statistical modeling and forecasting website FiveThirtyEight pegs United’s current playoff chances at a healthy 81%, which is where the club had hovered for much of August and September. New Mexico can take a huge step toward achieving its stated goal of making the playoffs in its inaugural season by taking three points from a desperate RGV. Nevertheless, Lesesne acknowledged that full effort over the last two weeks will be critical.
“None of these games will be easy, regardless of (whether) a team is actually eliminated or they’re on the line.”
IN MEMORIAM: A moment of silence will be held prior to kickoff on Saturday night at Isotopes Park to honor the memory of Austin Bold FC striker Promise Isaac, who passed away on Wednesday night according to a Bold statement. The Nigerian international totaled 80 goals over a 14-year club career, the majority of which was spent in the Turkish professional league. He was 31.
INJURY/DISCIPLINE REPORT: Ryan Williams remains out with an unspecified lower body injury, while Josh Goss is listed as questionable. Goalkeeper Cody Mizell, who missed his first start of the season last week against Phoenix Rising FC with a “minor” foot issue, was said to do well in training during the week by Lesesne. He didn’t specify whether Mizell or last week’s starter, Ben Beaury, would get the starting nod.
Additionally, Juan Pablo Guzmán will be unavailable for selection against RGV after the league handed him a one-match suspension for caution accumulation. Ryan Williams, Josh Suggs and Kevaughn Frater remain one yellow card away from suspensions for conduct on the pitch.