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United clinches playoff spot, plans for even more road games

New Mexico United was the lone Group C team without a Wednesday night match on this week’s USL Championship schedule. It was an eventful 24 hours for United nonetheless.

Without lacing up its soccer shoes, United clinched a playoff berth, slipped out of first place and officially learned it would not play a single regular-season match in its home state in 2020.

NMU announced Thursday its final three matches, all previously scheduled for Albuquerque, will instead be played on the road because of the New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions. Team president/CEO Peter Trevisani said hosting a potential playoff match in Albuquerque remains a possibility, but United must first win its group and secure a suitable venue for that to happen.

For the time being, Trevisani is glad to know his road-warrior club will be part of the postseason.

“Being able to clinch without having to play,” Trevisani said, “we’ll take it. Our primary goal is still to finish on top of the group and now we can turn our entire focus to that.”

NMU officially secured a playoff spot Wednesday when Portland Timbers 2 defeated Real Monarchs SLC. The top two finishers from each group advance to postseason play and Wednesday’s result assured that the third-place Monarchs (3-8-1, 10 points) cannot catch United (7-3-2, 23 points). Each club has four regular-season matches remaining.

It wasn’t all good news Wednesday, however. Rival El Paso Locomotive knocked United out of first place with a 2-1 win over Colorado Springs. El Paso (7-2-3) increased its point total to 24 and locked up Group C’s other playoff berth. El Paso also has four matches left.

Locomotive’s win adds luster to a looming showdown with United on Sept. 26, now set for El Paso’s Southwest University Park. NMU plays twice in the interim, including Saturday’s “home” match at Colorado Springs. All 1,000 tickets for the contest are being made available to United fans at SwitchbacksFC.com, with at least 800 reportedly sold already.

Group champions will host first-round postseason matches, while runners-up will have to open on the road. If United wins its group, Trevisani hopes to finally get a taste of home-field advantage. Opening-round playoff matches are set for Oct. 8-11.

“Yeah, 100%” he said. “If we can get that home match on Oct. 10, we absolutely want to do it. We’d have to figure out where to play and whether or not fans would be allowed at that point, but we haven’t ruled it out.”

United played home matches at Isotopes Park last season, but that facility has not been used for baseball or soccer in 2020 and the field has been winterized, Trevisani said. UNM’s soccer stadium, another potential venue, has not been used because the 2020 college season has been postponed until spring.

Renting a road stadium as the team is doing this week in Colorado Springs also remains a postseason option. United officials considered a similar scenario for the team’s final three regular-season matches but decided against it.

“Two of our matches are in Texas,” he said, “and fans would have to quarantine for 14 days after coming back from there. It doesn’t make sense to put anyone through that.”

United’s final regular-season game is Sept. 30 at Real Monarchs in Sandy, Utah.

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