Ready for a turn in the national spotlight? New Mexico United will soon find out.
Riding a season-best three-match winning streak, United faces a stiff test Sunday with a road matchup against Louisville City FC. LouCity (14-5-7) is contending for the USL Championship’s Central Division title, ranks first in home attendance and will certainly be motivated for a showcase match that will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
United coach Troy Lesesne expects nothing less.
“LouCity has its complete own identity,” Lesesne said in a Zoom media conference Saturday. “They are the standard-bearer in our league. They’ve won two championships, they’re in the semifinals every year, they have a beautiful new stadium and they’re very aggressive in the way they attack and the way they defend.”
With all of that said, Lesesne believes his team is ready to rise to the occasion.
“It’s an incredible opportunity and we are beyond excited to be here and to be able to compete with them,” he said.
United will be trying to extend a three-match winning streak, but Louisville City also has more than exposure on the line. Louisville trails Birmingham Legion FC by two points atop the Central, a margin that has shifted recently as Birmingham has won its last three outings while LCFC played to two draws.
New Mexico has its own divisional race to worry about. United’s recent surge has helped it climb into fourth place and a playoff position in the Mountain Division, but it was a tenuous position just two points ahead of Austin Bold FC and three ahead of Rio Grande Valley FC going into this weekend’s action.
United needs to keep its positive momentum, and midfielder/forward Chris Wehan believes his club has the proper mindset to do it.
“When you win it just encourages everyone to work that much harder,” Wehan said after Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Rio Grande Valley. “The feeling in our locker room is really positive now. Hopefully we can just keep this going.”
NMU certainly hopes to put on a better show than it did in its last ESPN2 appearance on July 21. United played poorly in a 3-0 loss at San Antonio FC, a defeat that turned out to be beginning of a seven-match winless streak.
New Mexico has since turned things around. Some late-August roster moves, including one that brought Wehan over from Orange County SC, have helped Lesesne’s club go 4-1-0 in its last five outings and push its way into postseason contention with seven matches left in the regular season.
“When you win three matches in a row, you gain a lot of confidence,” Lesesne said. “I don’t like to talk about momentum because the old cliché about taking things a game at a time is always the correct approach. But one of my assistant coaches pointed out today that to win a championship you have to win four matches in a row. It would be great if we could experience that before the postseason.”
Game Day: New Mexico United at Louisville city FC
Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN2, No radio.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
United (10-8-7): New Mexico’s attack has been more productive recently but a defense anchored by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis remains a team strength. United is tied for third in the USL Championship with 28 goals conceded and has allowed more than one just six times in 25 matches. Tambakis ranks fourth individually with seven clean sheets and seventh with 68 saves. Midfielder/forward Chris Wehan is riding a hot streak with goals in three straight matches and ranks 15th in the league with 41 chances created. Wehan is tied for 14th with nine goals overall this season.
Louisville (14-5-7): Striker Cameron Lancaster is the focal point of a potent attack that has produced 49 goals this season. Lancaster ranks third in the USL Championship with 15 goals and easily leads his club with 54 shots. Equally key to LouCity’s success has been defender Jonathan Gomez, who has seven assists, 37 chances created and leads the league with 137 crosses. Gomez, who turned 18 on Friday, will join Spanish side Real Sociedad in La Liga at the conclusion of Louisville’s season. Gomez and defender Sean Totsch, who leads the USLC with 1,710 passes, anchor a solid back line that has effectively protected goalkeeper Chris Hubbard (30 saves, five clean sheets).
New Mexico forward Amando Moreno will return to El Salvador later this week to rejoin the national team for a World Cup qualifier, but he did accompany United to Louisville and is expected to play Sunday. … United figures to face its largest opposing crowd of the season as Louisville City FC leads the league in home attendance at 9,858 fans per game. (New Mexico is second at 8,198). This is the first season with fans permitted at the soccer-specific, 11,700-seat Lynn Family Stadium, which opened in 2020.
— Ken Sickenger