New Mexico United’s sprint to the finish line starts Saturday.
Locked in a tight race with El Paso for the top spot in the USL Championship’s Group C, United opens a wild finishing stretch by taking on the Colorado Springs Switchbacks in a 3:30 p.m. contest at the latter’s home venue, Weidner Field. It’s the first of four matches in 12 days for NMU to conclude the truncated, 16-game regular season.
All four matches will be played outside of New Mexico, which is nothing new for a United team that’s played exclusively on the road in 2020 because of New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions. But Saturday’s match will be unique in that it’s billed as a “home” contest. NMU officials rented Weidner Field for the day and made all tickets (roughly 1,000 in compliance with Colorado’s COVID-19 restrictions) available to United fans.
New Mexico players say they’re looking forward to finally hearing cheers and drawing some energy from their fans, but they plan to stay focused on a larger prize. United (7-3-2) trails El Paso (7-2-3) by one point atop Group C heading into the season’s final stretch, making every upcoming contest critical.
United coach Troy Lesesne emphasized this week that his side can ill-afford a letdown against Colorado Springs (1-6-5), a team NMU is 2-0-1 against this season.
“Even though it’s our fourth time playing Colorado Springs, we need to have the right mentality and level of respect for the opponent,” Lesesne said. “Full focus, full hard work, full passion for the fans that are going to come and travel. We need to make sure we show up for them the way they’re showing up for us.”
Defender David Najem hopes Saturday’s “home” match will provide a spark.
“You see it every year,” Najem said, “teams that perform well and make a run in the USL playoffs are teams that are hot toward the end of the season. I really want to be in a good way personally and as a team, peaking at the right time.”
With this week’s announcement that United’s final three regular-season matches will be played on the road, Saturday’s contest carries extra incentive as the team’s lone chance to play in front of a supportive crowd. But Lesesne and his players also take pride in contending for a first-place finish as the only USL Championship team that has not played at home.
“We have a chance to do something that’s really special, really unique in year two,” Lesesne said. “Our ultimate goal is to finish at the top of Group C and we can only do that with a result this weekend.”
NOTES: To enforce social distancing at 5,000-seat Weidner Field, tickets for Saturday’s match were initially sold only in blocks. By Thursday, only larger blocks of four or five tickets remained, but United president/CEO Peter Trevisani said some of those blocks would likely be trimmed to make seats available to smaller parties. Fewer than 100 tickets were available online at SwitchbacksFC.com as of Friday afternoon.