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United looks to dodge red cards in Utah

New Mexico midfielder Josh Suggs, shown vying for possession in a match against El Paso in 2019, says getting off to a fast start vs. Real Monarchs on Friday will be a key. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Rising to adversity is an admirable trait, but there’s much to be said for avoiding it altogether.

New Mexico United has stepped up its play under difficult circumstances this season a bit more often than coach Troy Lesesne might like. He hopes to see an alternate storyline develop Friday night when NMU visits Real Monarchs SLC in Sandy, Utah.

United played a man down for extended spans in its last two matches, a 3-1 victory at Colorado Springs and a 1-0 home loss to Loudoun United. Red cards forced NMU to compete short-handed, but in each case the team’s intensity appeared to pick up after the infraction was logged.

“Can we just start the match with 10 players?” Lesesne joked. “Actually, the consensus of the group is we have to do our job with intensity and start on the front foot. In our first five matches we’ve only done that one time and that was against El Paso. We need to bring the intensity we all want to see and do it without adversity striking.”

United (2-2-1) will have everyone on its roster available Friday night. Andrew Tinari served a one-match suspension last week after picking up two yellow cards at Colorado Springs. Austin Yearwood’s mandated three-match suspension for a straight red card against Loudoun United was overturned by an independent review board this week.

The team will not have Lesesne available, however. He will serve a one-game “touchline ban” after receiving his own red card against Loudoun. The league’s disciplinary statement said he received a red card for “making offensive gestures to the officiating crew.” Assistant coach Zach Prince will fill in while Lesesne will be forced to watch from elsewhere in Zions Bank Stadium.

United fans cheered Lesesne as he ran off the field at Isotopes Park on Saturday, but he said the hasty retreat was not an attempt to fire up the crowd.

“I was so embarrassed about letting my emotions get the best of me,” Lesesne said. “I wanted to get off the field as fast as possible. But one thing about our fans, they always have our backs.”

United will have to perform without the benefit of its home fans this week. Lesesne and midfielder Josh Suggs did Thursday’s media session via Zoom from the airport as they waited to board a flight to Salt Lake City.

Real Monarchs SLC (0-2-2) presents something of a scouting challenge because its roster has been overhauled since last season. The team also can draw players from its MLS affiliate, Real Salt Lake, Lesesne pointed out.

“Real Monarchs are a good team,” Suggs said. “They have really good individual players and a set style they’re effective with. I do think our style matches up pretty well with theirs.”

United won all four meetings against Real Monarchs in 2020, with all four matches played at Zions Bank Stadium because of New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions.

Suggs believes setting an early tone will be key against a youthful Monarchs squad.

“That’s what we’ve been emphasizing all week, starting fast,” Suggs said. “We haven’t done that too effectively this year, but I think you’ll see a big difference against the Monarchs.”

Game day: New Mexico United at Real Monarchs SLC

Friday, 8 p.m., Sandy, Utah, 101.7 FM, ESPN+ (streaming)

WATCH PARTY

United and the city are hosting a watch party and ABQartwalk at Civic Plaza from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Food trucks, performers and local artists will be on site. Admission technically is free, but donations to the Somos Unidos foundation continue to be suggested.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

United (2-2-1): Substitution has been liberal through the first five matches, but defenders Austin Yearwood and Kalen Ryden have consistently anchored NMU’s back line. Yearwood, despite being sent off early in last week’s 1-0 home loss to Loudoun United, ranks fourth in the USL Championship with 24 clearances. Ryden has 21 clearances and leads the team in aerial duels won with 20 in 28 attempts. New Mexico’s offense has done a solid job creating pressure and midfielder Isidro Martinez leads the way with seven chances created, but Martinez is still looking for his first United goal and assist.

Real Monarchs (0-2-2): Fans who still have a 2020 Real Monarchs roster might consider throwing it away. The club has just three returning players and features a number of youngsters who have come through its academy program. That includes 17-year-old goalkeeper Jeff Dewsnup, a Herriman, Utah, native who has eight saves this season. Real Monarchs also brought in some experienced help in the offseason, including forward Malik Johnson. After spending the last two season with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Johnson ranks among the USL leaders with eight chances created through four matches with the Monarchs.

NOTEWORTHY

Real Monarchs will be coming off an extended break after last week’s scheduled match at Hartford was postponed. A covered person within the Monarchs’ party tested positive for COVID-19, but no further issues have since been reported. The club’s last match was on May 26. … New Mexico had its way with Real Monarchs last season, winning all four meetings by a combined 7-1 margin. … Ryden played for Real Monarchs in 2019, helping the club win a USL Championship league title before signing with NMU in 2020.




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