New Mexico United entered the weekend with a Group C-leading 19 points.
The 20th point they earned Saturday night in Colorado Springs may have been the ugliest, most hard- fought of the season.
But nobody complains about a point on the road.
Down to 10 players for the final 15 minutes in a game the team never looked comfortable playing, United gutted out a 1-1 draw against Switchbacks FC, helping to protect their Group C lead with just six matches left in the regular season.
While still undefeated against Colorado Springs, Saturday marked the first time in six matches United did not beat Switchbacks FC.
As far as this season goes, Saturday’s draw coupled with El Paso beating Real Monarchs SLC 2-1 in El Paso means United (6-2-2, 20 points) has a five-point lead in the Group C over El Paso (4-2-3, 15 points) and now a 13-point margin over third-place Colorado Springs (1-4-4, 7 points), which is important in that the top two teams of each group advance to the USL Championship playoffs.
The United hat was hung, as it often has been this season, on the foot of high-energy Amando Moreno and the backline defense and stellar goal keeping of Cody Mizell.
The first goal of the night was set up by striker Romeo Parkes, starting in place of Devon Sandoval, getting deep in the box before being taken down from behind by Adrian Diz Pe — a possibly fortuitous call for United, but one the bookings the rest of the night certainly seemed to try and even out.
The ensuing 54th-minute penalty kick off the right foot of Moreno made it 1-0, leading to Switchbacks goalkeeper Andre Dissent to draw a yellow card for dissent — upset both with the penalty kick and with his guessing wrong against Moreno’s strike that found the back of the net.
For Moreno, it was his third consecutive match with a goal (four on the season) and seventh consecutive match with a goal contribution (four goals and three assists).
Just four minutes later, however, Switchbacks FC’s Aidan Daniels launched a beautiful right-footed shot from outside the left corner of the 18-yard box, perfectly bending left around the outstretched arms of Mizell, finding the top right corner of the net for a 1-1 equalizer.
While the scoring would stop there, the drama would not.
Ryan Williams, who checked in at halftime for United, drew two earned yellow cards — in the 65th minute and another in the 75th minute — leading to a red card and United playing the rest of the match with a 4-4-1 look trying desperately to get out of town with the draw.
Despite creating plenty of opportunities in and around the United box down the stretch, including a pair of shots and two corner-kick scoring opportunities, the Switchbacks couldn’t solve the United backline defense.
AUGUST: In six August matches, United went 4-1-1, earning 13 points (10 against Group C opponents).
In 2019, United went 0-2-2 in August, earning 2 points.
TAKING A STAND: At the 7:00-minute mark and extending until the 8:46 mark of the first half, the two teams agreed to stop play, with the clock still running, in a united, and symbolic, stand “against racial inequality” amid another week of racial tension in the country.
The two teams stood, silent, in a circle around midfield.
United released a statement about the event prior to the match (the entire statement can be seen on ABQJournal.com/Sports), that read, in part, that the players feel a “responsibility to ourselves and our community to stand up against racial inequality.”
SUGGS MOVES UP: Las Cruces native Josh Suggs, United’s captain, played a full 90 minutes Saturday, moving him to 15,875 in his USL career and to No. 2 all-time in the league’s record book (Tacoma’s Taylor Mueller leads with 17,276).
MORE ROAD: Thursday, the team announced the Sept. 5 match scheduled to be played in Albuquerque will instead be played at El Paso, where United played twice already.
Saturday, in a pre-match interview on 101.7 FM, team owner Peter Trevisani let the cat out of the bag, saying the Sept. 12 scheduled home match against Real Monarchs SLC will also have to be moved out of state due to current public health order restrictions.
NM United at El Paso, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+ (stream), 101.7 FM