Home has indeed been sweet for New Mexico United this season – a trend that must continue if the club is to secure a playoff berth.
NMU hosts Hartford Athletic FC on Wednesday night, the first of back-to-back home matches that coach Troy Lesesne’s club badly needs to win. United enters the two-game stretch tied for fourth place in the USL Championship’s Mountain Division with Rio Grande Valley FC – the team it will face Saturday at Isotopes Park.
Four teams from each division advance to postseason, and United (10-9-7, 37 points) needs a strong finish over its final six matches to stay above the playoff line. Second-place Colorado Springs (44 points) and third-place San Antonio (43) are still within striking distance, but sixth-place Austin (36) is just a point behind NMU and has a match at hand.
Coming off a 3-1 road loss Sunday at Louisville City, Lesesne was succinct in his appraisal of this week’s home stand.
“We need everyone at the Lab,” he said. “We need six points.”
United, which did not play a home match in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions, has feasted on home cooking in 2021. NMU is 7-1-4 at home and ranks second in the league in home attendance (7,942 per match) behind Louisville.
Four of the club’s final six matches will be played at home, which Lesesne said puts some extra spring in his players’ steps.
“The guys are excited to have two straight matches at the Lab,” he said Tuesday. “This is the best time of year, October, and you’re in a playoff hunt. This is what players dream about and playing at home makes it that much better.”
Eastern Conference foe Hartford (9-13-3) is looking at the flip side of the coin as it faces United for the first time. HAFC is 4-8-0 in road matches, has dropped its last seven and has been shut out in its last four.
With that said, Lesesne noted that Hartford owns an impressive road win over Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay this season and features a potent scoring line with Danny Barrera and Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. Hartford has scored 38 goals this season, five more than New Mexico.
“Hartford’s played a lot of extremely close matches,” Lesesne said. “They’re a difficult opponent with talented attacking players we definitely respect. We can’t have another slow start like we had Sunday, that’s for sure.”
United surrendered two goals in the first 14 minutes at Louisville but rallied to make things more than interesting against the Central Division leaders. Amando Moreno scored just before halftime and had two quality chances to make the score 2-2 in the second half.
The latter shot banged off the crossbar, and LCFC converted a clinching third goal five minutes later.
“I thought we showed quite well for ourselves,” Lesesne said. “I was disappointed with the way we started but proud of the way we went toe to toe the rest of the way against arguably one of the top two teams in our league.”
NOTE: New Mexico’s October home matches have earlier start times than those played in the summer months. Wednesday’s contest begins at 7 p.m., and Saturday’s match starts at 5 p.m.