A rubber match, appropriately, will determine who gets bounced.
The New Mexico United will play Sacramento Republic FC on Wednesday in the California capital in the play-in round of the United Soccer League Western Division playoffs.
The winner advances into the first round of the playoffs. For the loser, the long USL season is finally over.
United made it to the play-in round as the 10th and lowest seed by virtue of a 2-0 victory over Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday at Isotopes Park. At that point, it no longer mattered that United had squandered a torrid start to its inaugural season, hit an extended slump and put itself in jeopardy of not making the postseason.
“I was nervous to not make the playoffs, but what a moment this is for this club, for this state and this city,” United midfielder and former New Mexico Lobo Chris Wehan said after Saturday’s victory. “… We’re going to be flying in Sacramento.”
The road assignment shouldn’t faze United, which defeated Republic FC 2-1 in Sacramento on July 24. The teams split during the regular season, Republic winning 3-0 in Albuquerque on June 8.
If United wins tonight, next up is a game at top-seeded Phoenix Rising on Saturday. United and Phoenix twice played to ties during the regular season, 3-3 on March 16 in Phoenix and 2-2 in Albuquerque on Sept. 28.
United would love to get another shot at Phoenix, but first things first. And after the convincing win over Las Vegas, anything seems possible.
“(Saturday) we played with a certain kind of freedom, knowing that we are going to take care of business,” United midfielder David Estrada said.
United finished the regular season with a 11-10-13 record, good for 46 points. Sacramento finished seventh with a record of 14-14-6, good for 48.
The New Mexico club will be wary of Sacramento forward Cameron Iwasa, who ranked sixth in the USL with 16 goals on the season. Republic FC is among the league’s most stout defensive teams, allowing 43 goals – ranking fourth in the USL – during the season.
WATCH PARTY: The City of Albuquerque and New Mexico United will host a watch party on Civic Plaza in Downtown Albuquerque on Wednesday.
Fans are invited to begin arriving at 8 p.m., a half-hour before kickoff.
Admission is free. Concession stands will have food, beer, and wine available for purchase. Food trucks will be on site as well. Some seating will be provided, but fans are encouraged to bring their own seating.