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United tries to keep it going vs. OKC Energy

Since USL Championship’s return, New Mexico United has been a group of road warriors.

On Saturday night, the condensed league schedule, which has been all road games for United, takes them east, to Oklahoma City. New Mexico, the Group C leader – 2-1-1 overall and 2-0-1 since the season restart three weeks ago – visits Group D’s new-look OKC Energy (1-1-2), with kickoff at 6 p.m.

The teams met in the preseason in Tucson.

“They’ve upgraded their personnel (from last year) in a lot of different ways,” United coach Troy Lesesne said. “Maybe their inconsistent results are due to them starting to gel that group together. You can start to see their identity forming. They’ve gotten better each week. And it’s a difficult place to play.”

One of the key offseason acquisitions for OKC Energy was Cuban forward Frankie Lopez. He scored eight goals in 14 appearances on loan at San Antonio FC (from LA Galaxy II) in the second half of last season, and he had OKC’s goal as a late substitute in the Energy’s last outing, a 1-1 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC on July 22.

But if you’re looking for a hot scorer, no need to look much further than United midfielder Chris Wehan. Only one player in the 35-team USL Championship – Tyler Pasher of Indy Eleven – has more goals this season (six) than Wehan’s three.

“I don’t think there’s too much I’m doing different,” said Wehan, a 26-year-old University of New Mexico alumnus from Laguna Niguel, California, in Orange County. He also is tied fifth in the league with 12 shots. “I’m just trying to enjoy my futbol and take every opportunity. Life if crazy right now, and when we’re on the futbol pitch, life is normal.”

New Mexico United has already bused once to Colorado, and twice to El Paso, ahead of its lengthy roadie to steamy Oklahoma City.

But United has proven to be nothing if not resilient.

“Our team does best when we’re faced with adversity,” said defender Josh Suggs of Las Cruces. His free kick – the first one he’s taken in a year, he said – helped set up Wehan’s goal in United’s 2-1 victory at El Paso last weekend. “We like being the underdogs, and we don’t shy away from that. But we’re rolling with the punches and we’ll get through it together.”

Jaime Chavez’s two goals lead the Energy.

“It’s gonna be a tough test, and a test we’re excited for, as well,” Lesesne said.

“OKC is not in our group and that makes this game even more important,” United goalkeeper Cody Mizell said. “To grab three points outside our group is super important.”

New Mexico has scored two goals in each of these last three road matches, and this offensive surge is not lost on Lesesne. He said United has the luxury and flexibility to mix and match up top.

“We’re close to figuring out exactly what our sweet spot is,” he said.

NOTES: United owner Peter Trevisani said during the team’s weekly zoom press conference on Wednesday that the franchise has not had a positive test for COVID-19. “We’ve been fortunate,” he said. “It shows that the bubble we have in place right now is working. That’s not to say that if someone does (test positive) that it’s not working. … Nothing is risk-free, but so far, so good.”

… New Mexico United visits Phoenix, the Western Conference’s top side last year, on Aug. 8.

… Two United players, midfielders Kalen Ryden and Juan Guzman, once played for the Energy.

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