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United hopes to rediscover its missing offense

Forgive New Mexico United and San Antonio FC if they’d rather not go back to the drawing board.

Both teams are coming off frustrating draws when they square off in a USL Championship Mountain Division matchup Wednesday night at Isotopes Park. United battled to a 0-0 home deadlock with Austin Bold FC last weekend, while a late penalty-kick goal forced SAFC to settle for a 1-1 draw with Las Vegas. It was San Antonio’s third consecutive draw.

Not all the news was unpleasant. NMU and San Antonio each grabbed a point and remained in the thick of a tight divisional race. Rio Grande Valley leads the way with 16 points, followed by El Paso (12), New Mexico (11) and San Antonio (10).

Wednesday’s winner can leapfrog over idle El Paso into second place – provided there is a winner.

“Clearly we want more goals and we want three points,” United coach Troy Lesesne said during Tuesday’s media conference. “It’s a quick turnaround, but everyone’s ready to play San Antonio.”

United (3-2-2) has struggled to put shots away of late, scoring just one goal over its last three matches and going 1-1-1 in that span. Striker Amando Moreno said the team has been detail-oriented this week, hoping to make NMU’s attack more productive after a number of recent close misses.

“We have to try to be more dynamic,” Moreno said, “maybe find a way to make a play for somebody else on a run through. We’ve just been a little bit off, and we’re working really hard to put things together.”

Lesesne agreed, pointing out that United had back-to-back three-goal performances earlier this season and a pair of four-goal outings in the preseason.

“We have that ability,” he said. “We haven’t created enough dangerous shots in our last couple matches, but we will get there.”

United’s scoring opportunities were limited against an Austin Bold FC team that packed in its defense and rarely pushed forward. Moreno does not expect a similar approach from San Antonio, a team NMU edged 1-0 in last season’s Western Conference quarterfinals.

“I think we’ll have more opportunities this week,” Moreno said. “San Antonio’s a very good team that plays aggressively. We have to be more aggressive, too.”

San Antonio ranks fifth in the league in shot attempts (98) and sixth in goals scored with 11. New Mexico, by way of contrast, has attempted just 68 shots and scored eight goals this season.

But United’s defensive numbers have been stellar, particularly in recent weeks. Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and his back line have posted back-to-back clean sheets and are tied for third in the league with just five goals conceded all season.

Since allowing a goal in the second minute at Colorado Springs on May 21, New Mexico has surrendered just one over 358 minutes plus stoppage time. The lone tally came against Loudoun United when United was playing a man down.

SHOT PERKS: United, Western Sky Community Care and the Somos Unidos Foundation are piling up incentives for fans to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at home matches. Beginning Wednesday night, Western Sky is purchasing an entire section of tickets and donating them to local businesses interested in having their employees vaccinated at a United match.

Once fans receive full vaccinations, they will receive a $100 incentive from the State of New Mexico and a $25 gift card for New Mexico United merchandise. More information is available on the team’s website, newmexicoutd.com.

GAME DAY: SAN ANTONIO FC AT NEW MEXICO UNITED

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Isotopes Park, 101.7 FM/ESPN+ (streaming)/Estrella (UHF 7.2, Comcast 386)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
San Antonio (2-1-4): Forward Marcus Epps has made his presence felt for SAFC after signing in the offseason. Epps, who has MLS experience with the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls, has scored two goals on a team-high 11 shots with nine chances created. Cameron Lindley leads the club with 13 chances created. Goalkeeper Matt Cardone is tied for fourth in the USL Championship with 23 saves but he has just one clean sheet, posted in week one against Colorado Springs.
United (3-2-2): New Mexico’s back line continues to be a model of consistency, and defender Sam Hamilton has been a major part of the equation. Hamilton leads the club and ranks fourth in the USL Championship with 432 passes. Hamilton’s passing accuracy rate is 85.2% He also leads NMU with 26 tackles, ranks third in duels (70) and leads the way in duels won (47). Midfielder Chelo Martinez continues to set the pace offensively with 12 chances created. No other United player has more than five.
NOTEWORTHY
NMU’s Josh Suggs is expected to make his 200th career regular-season USL Championship appearance on Wednesday. The Las Cruces native is the league’s second-most tenured player. Louisville City’s George Davis IV has 235 regular-season appearances, including two this season. … San Antonio will be without its top scorer, striker Santiago Patiño, who will serve the second of a three-match suspension on Wednesday. Patiño received a red card for violent conduct during a June 5 contest against Colorado Springs. He has scored five of his team’s 11 goals this season.




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