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On the road again: United moves another home match, climbs up power rankings

New Mexico United coach Troy Lesesne greets Sam Hamilton as they show up to board a bus to Phoenix on Aug. 7 for a match the next day. The team has yet to play a home match this season. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico United can click those ruby red slippers all they want.

Home ain’t happening anytime soon.

Thursday brought for the USL Championship’s de facto “Road Warriors” another unsurprising, but still unfortunate announcement: The team’s Sept. 5 home match against El Paso Locomotive FC will be moved to Southwest University Park in El Paso due to New Mexico’s continued public health order restrictions. The match is set for 7:30 p.m.

For United, (6-2-1), the only USL Championship team yet to play a home match in the revamped 16-game season, that leaves just five scheduled home matches from Sept. 12 through Sept. 30, but those are uncertainties at best. The team doesn’t have a place to play home matches, with or without fans.

While there was an agreement announced on July 2 to play 2020 United matches at UNM’s Soccer Complex, there was never a contract signed and now that fall sports for UNM have been postponed – ultimately due to a decision of the Mountain West Board of Directors but also requested by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham – it is uncertain UNM can still make its field and staff available.

“While we are disappointed that we are unable to host this match in New Mexico, we will continue to do everything in our power to assist the governor in her efforts to keep New Mexicans safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said United CEO and Owner Peter Trevisani. “We are grateful to El Paso Locomotive for their flexibility and hospitality, and hope to bring three points back to New Mexico.”

NMU has a win and a draw at El Paso already this season.

United is one of six teams in the 35-team USL Championship with six victories on the season. While entirely fair to note New Mexico is the only team not playing home matches, its six road wins are easily the league’s best.

Road wins among USL Championship teams with league-best six victories in 2020 season:

6 – New Mexico United
4 – Reno 1869 FC
3 – Tampa Bay Rowdies
2 – San Antonio FC and Indy Eleven
1 – Phoenix Rising

Wednesday, United coach Troy Lesesne noted how impressed he has been with his team’s performance under circumstances no other team in the league faces.

“I think it’s unprecedented in a lot of ways what the players are doing right now in a normal environment, let alone the environment that we’ve been in this year in 2020,” said Lesesne, whose team plays at Colorado Springs on Saturday.

“So I think it’s a testament to their character. I think we have a lot more work to do … and it’s going to get more difficult potentially just, you know, with home matches being still a question mark for us.”

SO, ABOUT THAT MESSI GUY: World-class superstar Lionel Messi this week has asked his club FC Barcelona to play elsewhere, causing a stir worldwide in the soccer/football communities.

Thursday, Lesesne was asked if United would welcome the Argentine star.

“Look, we’re on a proper win streak right now, I don’t want to disrupt the group,” Lesesne joked. “He’s a good payer. If ‘Beez’ (Chris Wehan) was unhappy not playing last Wednesday, look, Messi is going to be really hard to manage.”

POWER RANKINGS: United jumped up to No. 6 in the 35-team USL Championship Power Rankings this week, the highest the team has ever been. They were No. 8 a week ago prior to the pair of road wins at SLC.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: One of the best stretches of play in the past few weeks for United has been that of forward Amando Moreno, who was rewarded this week being named to the Week 9 USL Championship Team of the Week.

The 24-year-old midfielder scored twice against Real Monarchs SLC last week — once after being inserted into the game in the second half and then in the first five minutes of Saturday’s win.

Teammate David Estrada (two assists in the Aug. 19 win) was also honored, landing on the seven-man bench.

There have been five United players honored in the past five weeks in the 35-tam league’s Team of the Week (11 players and a bench selected weekly).

UP NEXT: Saturday: NM United at Colorado Springs, 6 p.m., ESPN+ (streaming), 101.7 FM

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