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Shorthanded United scraps way to road tie at El Paso

New Mexico United goalkeeper Cody Mizell makes a save in the first half of Wednesday’s math against El Paso Locomotive FC at Southwest University Park in El Paso. (Courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC)

A depleted New Mexico United roster — already down four defenders before losing two more in Wednesday’s match — managed to hold off an onslaught of late pressure and secure a 2-2 road tie against El Paso Locomotive FC.

After more than a few missed opportunities early, including a near empty net misplay that he would have been replaying in his head for a long time, former UNM Lobo Devon Sandoval redeemed himself in the 76th minute, smashing in a penalty kick low and left past the outstretched arms of El Paso Keeper Logan Ketterer to knot the game, 2-2.

The draw gives for United (1-1-1) a valuable point on the road to keep pace at second place, one point behind Group C leading El Paso (1-0-2) through three matches in the USL Championship’s shortened 16-match season.

With local temperatures over 100-degrees at kickoff at Southwest University Stadium for two teams that don’t seem to care much for one another, United put the pressure on early.

NMU’s high press created problems for Locomotive FC in the first 30 minutes. Sloppy passing, due in large part to the pressure, led Ketterer to mishandle a ball in front of his own goal. Another former Lobo, Chris Wehan, found himself less than 10 yards from the net with the misplayed ball sitting in front of him. He converted on one of the easiest opportunities he’ll have for the early 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.

United was clearly the better team for about 30 minutes.That was until their lack of depth on the backline really started to get exposed due to yet another injury.

The team entered the match already down three injured defenders who were regular starters in 2019 — Justin Schmidt, Rashid Tetteh and Josh Suggs — and also without defender Manny Padilla — suspended indefinitely while the team looks into a sexual assault allegation from his time playing for the University of San Francisco from 2014-17.

In the 29th minute, David Najem, seen grabbing the back of his right leg with an apparent hamstring injury, had to leave the game, and leave a hole at the right back spot that was already thin due to Padilla’s suspension. El Paso took advantage for the final 15-18 minutes of the first half, mostly attacking that right back spot where Daniel Bruce subbed in and was playing out of position.

With numerous opportunities, Locomotive FC scored in the 43rd minute (Omar Salgado) and again five minutes into extra time for the half (Andrew Fox) for a 2-1 lead. The closing moments of the half, not unlike Saturday at Colorado Springs when the Switchbacks had numerous opportunities before finding the back of the net in the closing minutes, had a look of chaos and confusion for the United backline.

The second half, El Paso’s pressure dominated, but United found a way to avoid disaster.

After two misses near the goal by Sandoval, Wehan was pulled down in the box in the 76th minute, leading to Sandoval’s equalizing penalty kick.

In the 80th minute, in case things weren’t bad enough for the United backline, Sam Hamilton left the pitch with an undisclosed injury and United was without any allowed substitutions remaining, closing out a final 15 minutes or so (there were six minutes of stoppage time added on) of frantic, high-pressure Locomotive attacking under a heavy rain pouring down.

El Paso’s efforts down the stretch, however, were for naught and United, for the second time in four days had a bus ride back to Albuquerque satisfied with their result.
The two teams play again July 24, again in El Paso.

IN THE CARDS: The match was chippy, to say the least. There were 23 total fouls, plenty of trash talking and six yellow cards issued.

The six yellow cards issued went to a pair of United players (Andrew Tinari, 49th minute; Romeo Parks, 53) and to four Locomotive players (Bryam Rebellon, 37; Salgado, 40; Mechack Jerome, 84; Dylan Mares, 96).

UP NEXT: July 24, NM United at El Paso Locomotive, 7 p.m., ESPN-plus (online stream), 101.7 FM

GROUP C: Third place Colorado Springs (1-1-0) plays at defending USLC champion Real Monarchs SLC (0-2-0) on Saturday. A Switchbacks FC win, and three points, would put Colorado Springs atop the table with six points (El Paso has five, United four).

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