Desperation was not on New Mexico United’s side Saturday night.
Rio Grande Valley FC played like a club with its postseason hopes on the line and handed visiting United a decisive 2-0 defeat in Edinburg, Texas. The Toros (11-11-8, 41 points) pulled to within two points of New Mexico (11-10-10, 43 points) in the battle for the final playoff position in the USL Championship’s Mountain Division. (Click here for USL standings.)
Austin Bold (10-10-11, 41 points) also remained in the hunt but did not significantly help its cause with a 0-0 draw against San Antonio on Saturday.
RGVFC, on the other hand, greatly enhanced its hopes with a dominating performance against NMU. The Toros can clinch a playoff spot by winning their final two matches – Wednesday at Real Monarchs and next Saturday against visiting El Paso.
United had an opportunity to secure a playoff spot with a win Saturday night but now needs help to extend its run of postseason appearances to three. NMU can still advance if RGVFC draws or loses either of its final two matches.
New Mexico was significantly short-handed Saturday with five players out because of injuries and two more (Josh Suggs and Juan Pablo Guzman) unavailable because of yellow card accumulation. United’s makeshift lineup was simply unable to sustain much pressure against the highly motivated Toros.
Rio Grande Valley outshot the visitors 19-4 and produced six shots on target to NMU’s one. Only a pair of remarkable second-half saves by United goalkeeper Alex Tambakis prevented the final margin from being more than two goals.
United coach Troy Lesesne was not immediately available for comment after Saturday’s match.
Neither team seriously threatened in the first half as the only shot on goal was a soft header by RGVFC’s Christian Sorto that Tambakis easily handled.
Still, the hosts outshot New Mexico 9-1 in the first 45 minutes.
United’s best scoring chance may have come in the first minute of the second half, when a chip pass to Chris Wehan set up an opening in the left side of the box. But Toros goalkeeper Tyler Deric made a scrambling save on Wehan’s shot to keep the score 0-0.
Roughly one minute later, Rio Grande Valley capitalized on a New Mexico defensive turnover. Sorto passed across the top of the box to wide-open teammate Rodrigo Lopez, who drilled the ball home for a 1-0 lead.
The Toros continued to press and added a well-executed goal in the 58th minute when Sorto received a backside cross and headed the ball in front to Kyle Edwards for a strike and a 2-0 advantage.
New Mexico finally mounted some pressure in the final 20 minutes and came close to breaking the shutout. Kalen Ryden headed a ball just wide of the frame in the 73rd minute, and Alex Touche blasted a cross through the RGVFC box in the 87th that a defender nearly redirected into the net.
But in the end, the Toros handed NMU its second shutout defeat in as many appearances at H-E-B Park this season. RGVFC won the season series 2-1-1 over NMU.
United concludes the regular season at home next Saturday against Real Monarchs at 5 p.m.
(Click here for match statistics.)