One point at a time is not the kind of pace New Mexico United needs these days.
With regular-season opportunities dwindling fast, United did not significantly improve its playoff chances Saturday night, playing to a 1-1 draw with Rio Grande Valley FC at Isotopes Park.
It was the second draw in four nights for NMU (10-9-9), which managed just two points from a two-match home stand and finished the evening tied with Austin Bold for fourth place – the final playoff position – in the USL Championship’s Mountain Division. RGVFC (10-10-8) is one point behind in sixth place.
The big problem for New Mexico and Rio Grande Valley is that each has four matches remaining. Austin Bold has six still to play.
United coach Troy Lesesne and his players acknowledged the tough playoff path they now face, but none is about to throw in the towel.
“We have no choice but to push on,” said Chris Wehan, who scored New Mexico’s goal Saturday. “We have four games left and we don’t know beyond that, but we get to play soccer and we will go give everything we have.”
United hurt its playoff cause with a self-inflicted wound Saturday. A sloppy defensive turnover in the penalty area effectively gifted the Toros a goal in the sixth minute. Kyle Edwards accepted the giveaway and tapped a pass to Elvis Amoh, who easily booted the ball into an open net.
It was the only shot on target all night for Rio Grande Valley, and Lesesne referred to it as a giveaway.
“(Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis) has been great all year and our back line has been solid for the most part,” Lesesne said. “We take a lot of pride in that, but we have to take ownership for the ones we give up, too. Self-inflicted goals hurt.”
New Mexico came up with an answer for its early miscue in the 24th minute. Sergio Rivas made a nice move at the top of the box and hit Wehan with a nice lead pass on the right wing. He promptly blasted a high shot into the net for his 10th goal of the season and a 1-1 score.
But even a raucous crowd of 6,934 waving complimentary red New Mexico Chiles flags could not spur the home team to another goal. New Mexico finished with 62% of the possession but managed just six shots, two on target, in the match.
“Possession is great, but it has to materialize into chances,” Lesesne said. “Rio Grande Valley is a tough team to break down, but two shots on goal is not good enough.”
Tambakis, whose hopes for an eighth clean sheet were thwarted by the early defensive mistake, agreed.
“We have to start well, not give up an easy one,” he said. “That’s easy to say, but we have to actually do it. Now everyone just has to stay positive and focus on what’s next.”
New Mexico now gets an eight-day break before playing at San Diego Union on Oct. 17.
“San Diego is a playoff match,” Lesesne said. “Austin has two games in hand, but they still have to get it done. We’ll stay positive and keep pushing.”