New Mexico United experienced another late flashback Saturday night – but this one was something to smile about. At last, a win on the road for NM United By Ken Sickenger Journal Staff Writer
New Mexico United experienced another late flashback Saturday night – but this one was something to smile about.
Chris Wehan banged home a goal in the 84th minute and United made it stand for a 1-0 road victory over San Antonio FC at Toyota Field.
NMU (9-8-7, 34 points) earned its first road win since June 4 (over Real Monarchs SLC) and claimed three critical points in its quest for a USL Championship playoff spot. New Mexico remained tied with Rio Grande Valley (a winner over Atlanta United 2 on Saturday) for fifth place in the Mountain Division but pulled to within two points of fourth-place Austin Bold (36 points).
United also gained ground on third-place San Antonio (11-7-7, 40 points), which plays in Albuquerque on Oct. 20. New Mexico has eight matches remaining to grab one of the division’s four playoff positions. Saturday’s win was a big step.
“We needed that one,” New Mexico coach Troy Lesesne said in a post-match phone interview. “If we want to reach the playoffs, we’ve got to win some games on the road and our guys know that. I thought we did a great job setting the tone early and really maintained our focus throughout the match.”
As for the flashback, Wehan’s goal stirred memories of last season’s Western Conference matchup at Toyota Field – a 1-0 New Mexico win with Wehan scoring in extra time.
“We’ll take another one like that,” Lesesne said.
This time Wehan was on the receiving end of a slick pass from Amando Moreno. As Wehan made a strong run into the San Antonio box, Moreno patiently dribbled from the left wing and slipped a pass through the defense to where Wehan could left-foot it past SAFC goalkeeper Matt Cardone.
“It was a really nice build for Amando to get to that spot,” Lesesne said, “and for him to see Beez (Wehan) making that run and get the ball to him was special. Of course, Beez’s finish was awesome, too.”
It was Wehan’s second go-ahead goal in as many matches, his eighth of the season overall and his fourth since rejoining United seven matches ago.
New Mexico outshot San Antonio 16-11 overall, 3-2 in shots on target and held a narrow edge (51%) in possession. United also had some good early scoring chances, including a shot through the box by Daniel Bruce that eluded Cardone but rolled just outside of the left post.
SAFC came even closer to breaking through late in the first half on a pair of shots by Marcus Epps. NMU goalkeeper Alex Tambakis stopped the first – a header from point-blank range – and the second bounded off the left post and back to Tambakis in the 45th minute.
“That’s going to happen,” Lesesne said, “especially against a solid side like San Antonio. You have to stay focused, stay together and sometimes even have a little luck to win on the road.”
Tambakis posted his sixth clean sheet of the season and his first since a 0-0 draw at Tacoma on Aug. 1. He got considerable help from his back line, which effectively shut down SAFC over the final minutes of regulation and stoppage time.
As a result, United avoided flashing back to several late leads that got away earlier this season.
“The guys are happy,” Lesesne said, “but they’re already turning their attention to Wednesday night (a home match against Rio Grande Valley). As a coach, that’s exactly what you want to see.”