Offense taken, but none produced in United draw with El Paso

New Mexico United’s Daniel Bruce, left, battles El Paso’s Javier (Yuma) Monsalvez for possession late in the second half. Monsalvez drew the ire of fans after numerous arguments and perceived flops. The fans were given that kind of drama, but no goals in the contest. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal )

Some scoreless draws, it seems, are a bit more satisfying than others.

New Mexico United survived playing a man down for the final 25 minutes plus stoppage time and came away with a point after a 0-0 draw with visiting El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday night.

There were not many dangerous scoring opportunities for either team but a season-best crowd announced at 10,303 at Isotopes Park still found plenty to get riled up about. Fans got their money’s worth instead from plenty of physical battling between the USL Championship Mountain Division rivals.

United coach Troy Lesesne said his players — none of whom came to a postgame press conference — were less than delighted to come away without a full three points, but there was some sense of accomplishment in coming away with one.

“I was incredibly proud prior to our red card,” Lesesne said, “and even more proud after that. It’s unfortunate we had to go a man down because I felt that with the way things were going, we would have gotten a winner. But that kind of grit and effort was a good representation of what New Mexico United is about.”

Josh Suggs, center, watches his shot bounce off the left post in the second half while El Paso keeper Logan Ketterer can only watch. United’s Sergio Rivas, right, trails the play.

United (6-6-3) came close to getting three points. Josh Suggs blasted a shot off the left post in the 64th minute, and Brian Brown sent a hard free kick just over the crossbar seconds before the end of second-half stoppage time.

But on this night, the emotion of what’s become an intense rivalry almost made up for a lack of scoring. Denied an opportunity to cheer a goal by their heroes, United fans took pleasure in heckling the bad guys.

El Paso’s Javier (Yuma) Monsalvez earned the title of designated match villain after numerous arguments and perceived flops. He was booed at every touch of the ball in the second half, and fans loudly jeered when he finally received a yellow card in stoppage time.

Without naming anyone specific, Lesesne acknowledged some of the opposing team’s crowd-inciting tactics.

“I think they’re one of the best teams in the league at gamesmanship,” he said of the Locos (7-1-4). “They do things to change the tempo and they fight together, too. But we went toe to toe, which is what you have to do against teams like that.”

Match referee Greg Dopka also drew the crowd’s wrath in the first half, when he whistled NMU for 16 fouls to El Paso’s four. Fans began chanting their displeasure, though the foul count was more equal in the second half and ended up 23-14.

New Mexico had one of its best defensive performances in recent weeks, coming away with its fourth clean sheet of the season. Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis came up with a few scrambling saves but was largely protected by his back line for most of the match.

“The defensive effort was great,” Lesesne said.

Fans also seemed to appreciate some gritty play by the home side, particularly after defender Juan Pablo Guzman picked up his second yellow card and left with the resulting red-card ejection in the 65th minute.

Unlike the silence that greeted the final whistle of United’s 0-0 draw with visiting Austin Bold earlier this season, Saturday’s ending brought a round of applause for the home squad.

“I didn’t feel like we were a man down because of that crowd,” Lesesne said.

“They really had our backs, and it made a huge difference.”

El Paso finished with a 9-8 edge in shots (each side put two on goal) and the Locos held 57% of the possession overall. Still, United seemed to more than hold its own in the second half, despite playing short-handed for much of it.

“When we finished in a scoreless draw with Austin Bold, they just kept everyone back and it was really frustrating,” Lesesne said. “There’s no frustration tonight with the way we represented. It’s just too bad we couldn’t give the fans a winner.”

(Click here for updated United Soccer League Championship standings, here for Saturday’s El Paso-New Mexico box score.)

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