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United derails Locomotive FC in El Paso, takes over first place

New Mexico United players celebrate the first half goal of Chris Wehan (14), center, during Friday night’s match against El Paso Locomotive FC at Southwest University Park in El Paso. (Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Locomotive FC)

Who needs home matches?

Playing on the road for the fourth time in four matches this season, and at regional rival El Paso for the second time in nine days, New Mexico United overcame a four-hour midday bus ride with a largely dominating performance to beat El Paso Locomotive FC 2-1.

The ‘Kings of Chaos’, for now, are the Kings of Group C, leapfrogging El Paso by taking the three points on Friday at Southwest University Park a quarter of the way through the shortened 16-match USL Championship season.

Playing under a steady rain throughout the night, and gain using its usual high-press attack and capitalizing on the mistakes that pressure creates, United got on the board thanks to a familiar face.

Chris Wehan’s right foot completed a picturesque three-man set piece in the 35th minute for a 1-0 lead — a goal that had New Mexico connections throughout.

Captain Josh Suggs, the Las Cruces native returning from injury and playing for the first time this season, sent in a beautiful ball off the restart to Eldorado High graduate and former UNM Lobo star Devon Sandoval, whose header perfectly set up Wehan, another former Lobo star for his third goal in the past three matches.

And while United has folded late in the first half of its previous two matches — a late one at Colorado Springs on July 11 and a pair of late goals on July 15 in El Paso — on Friday, they kept control and continued to apply pressure.

Sandoval added another brilliant goal of his own four minutes into first half stoppage time — making it the second match in the past nine days against Locomotive that the Lobo duo of Sandoval and Wehan scored both United goals in El Paso.

The striker whose penalty kick goal late in last week’s match at El Paso earned United a draw, blasted in Friday’s eventual game winner on a run late in the half, firing form about 10 yards beyond the left side of the box and right past the outstretched right arm of a diving Logan Ketterer, El Paso’s talented goal keeper.

On the other side of the field, though, United keeper Cody Mizell was even better. He was working on a clean sheet most of the match thanks to strong backline play by United and a pair of impressive saves. But a penalty in the box in the 86th minute set up Aaron Gomez’s penalty kick goal, for the 2-1 final score.

The two were each issued yellow cards after the goal, exchanging some shoves meant to appear accidental, but clearly were not.

The win pushes United to 2-1-1 overall and with seven points into first place in Group C. El Paso (1-1-2) stands firm with five points and is in second place over No. 3 Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (1-1-1) with 4 points and last year’s USL champion Real Monarchs SLC (0-2-1) with just 1 point.

United next plays Aug. 1 at Oklahoma City Energy FC.

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