The road trip goes on …
Chris Wehan scored the lone goal in overtime and New Mexico United outlasted San Antonio FC 1-0 in a USL Championship playoff battle of wills Saturday night at San Antonio’s Toyota Field.
United maintained its poise while fighting off late pressure and some obvious frustration by SAFC, which suffered its first home loss all season. As a result, NMU’s road warriors earned a trip to next week’s Western Conference semifinals where they’ll face rival El Paso for the fifth time in 2020. Details had not been announced at press time.
Locomotive FC edged FC Tulsa in another overtime battle Saturday. The match was even at 2-2 after regulation and overtime before El Paso won on penalty kicks (4-2).
It means yet another excursion for United (9-4-3), which has played all 16 of its matches outside its home state this season because of New Mexico’s pandemic restrictions. If Saturday night’s performance is any indication, NMU’s players and coaches won’t mind extending their remarkable season on the road.
A physical battle that produced a handful of good scoring chances for both teams came down to one nifty move by Wehan in the 101st minute. USL Championship playoff rules require teams to play two 15-minute overtime periods if they finish regulation time tied. There are no golden goals and a five-round penalty kick shootout follows if overtime does not determine a winner.
In this case, one overtime goal was enough. It came after United’s David Najem headed the ball to Wehan on the right wing. Wehan flicked the ball toward the middle and turned inside, where the ball bounced off a defender. Wehan then blasted a low shot into the right corner of the net and promptly raced toward the NMU bench, sliding to celebrate his team-best seventh goal of the season.
Things became contentious after Wehan’s tally as United began playing deliberately to help burn the remaining minutes. SAFC’s players became increasingly frustrated and committed some hard fouls, including one late in the first overtime that led to some pushing and shoving by both teams.
San Antonio’s Mitchell Taintor took down United striker Devon Sandoval and appeared to either spit or yell at Sandoval as he got up. An official quickly got between the players and Taintor did not receive a yellow card, but some of Sandoval’s teammates took exception. Order was restored after a few minutes with no ejections.
United effectively held SAFC (10-4-3) at bay in the second overtime period to secure the victory.
The first-round victory did not come easily as United goalkeeper Cody Mizell and his back-line teammates had to work hard for their seventh clean sheet of the season. Mizell made a number of outstanding plays, including a dazzling punch that sent a San Antonio header just over the crossbar late in the first half.
NMU was outshot 17-10 but was far more efficient, putting six shots on target to three for SAFC. United had a significant edge in possession at 59% to San Antonio’s 41%.