New Mexico Untied fans attending a watch party in Civic Plaza Friday night celebrate on stage as their team scores late in the second half to beat the Real Monarchs in Sandy, Utah. Pictured is Gerry Reneau, foreground, being mobbed by (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Saturday, June 12
Austin Bold FC at NM United, 7:30 p.m., 101.7 FM/ESPN+ (streaming)
Not exactly as he drew it up, but you won’t hear Isidro Martinez complaining.
Martinez, better known as “Chelo,” lobbed roughly a 40-yard free kick into the back of the net Friday night to give New Mexico United a hard-fought 1-0 road victory over Real Monarchs SLC.
Almost certainly intended as a cross, Martinez’s ball carried over his teammates and the Monarchs’ defense, bouncing inside the goal area and past diving goalkeeper Jeff Dewsnup in the 82nd minute. It was Martinez’s first goal with United and it earned the visitors three points on what, to that point, had been a frustrating night.
“We definitely had a stroke of luck on the goal,” United coach Troy Lesesne said in a postgame phone interview, “and it felt like we needed it. Through six matches that was probably the first real stroke of luck to go our way, so I guess we were due.”
New Mexico (3-2-1) dominated possession throughout (61%) but could not connect on any of numerous scoring chances. Real Monarchs (0-3-2) finished with a 7-5 shot advantage despite having relatively few opportunities.
“We had really good control, especially in the first half,” Lesesne said, “even though it didn’t create a lot of direct scoring chances. And I loved the way our defense performed all night. It’s great to get that first clean sheet on a night where we needed one.”
Lesesne was forced to watch the match from the stands as he served a one-game ban for a red card he received during last week’s 1-0 home loss to Loudoun United. Assistant coach Zach Prince filled in for Lesesne, picking up the win in relief.
“Zach’s on his way to being a head coach in the USL,” Lesesne said. “He did a great job working with the players tonight. But I really don’t want to watch from the stands again. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Things looked promising for the visitors early as NMU sent several dangerous balls into prime scoring territory. Devon Sandoval came closest to breaking through, heading a well-placed cross downward from directly in front of the Monarchs’ goal in the 10th minute. The ball bounced over the crossbar.
New Mexico’s attack sent several more balls in front of the goal in the first half but was unable to produce a finishing touch.
The Monarchs’ best chance to grab a first-half lead came when Daniel Flores got ahead of the defense on the left wing and blasted a short-range shot in the 40th minute. But United goalkeeper Alex Tambakis blocked the attempt with his left leg to keep the score even into halftime.
Tambakis stopped all three of the shots Real Monarchs put on target and got strong assistance from his defensive teammates. NMU had allowed one goal in each of its first five matches before breaking the streak Friday night.
“I think that’s a weight off Alex and the entire back line,” Lesesne said. “We’ve always talked about trying to get our goals-against average below one and we’ve never quite been able to get there until now. We’ll see if we can keep it there.”
Martinez’s goal also broke a rather lengthy scoring drought for United, which had not found the net since the final minute of its May 21 match at Colorado Springs. It seemed fitting that Martinez scored after providing his teammates with a number of opportunities Friday.
“Chelo put some great balls in the box,” Lesesne said. “He finally got rewarded.”
(Click here for match details, here for updated United Soccer League standings.)
United fans attending a watch party at Civic Plaza react to seeing their favorite team score late in the match, an eventual 1-0 New Mexico win over Real Monarchs SLC. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)