Desperate for goals, United hopes huge crowd can help - Albuquerque Journal

Desperate for goals, United hopes huge crowd can help

All the makings of a festive holiday occasion will be on display Saturday at Isotopes Park.

Two days after the official Cinco de Mayo and a few hours before Mother’s Day, New Mexico United will host San Diego Loyal SC in front of what’s expected to be a large, enthusiastic crowd. More than 10,000 tickets had been sold by Friday, and United officials were expecting roughly 12,000 fans for the contest.

The first 3,000 fans to enter the belated Cinco de Mayo party will receive hand-held New Mexico United flags. They’ll be looking for any possible excuse to wave them.

The home team would like nothing better than to oblige, even if its own on-field celebrations have been relatively few of late. United is coming off a scoreless draw Wednesday at Sacramento that extended its USL Championship scoring drought to three matches.

NMU did find the net in both of its U.S. Open Cup matches in April, but its last USLC goal was Sergio Rivas’ header in the 69th minute of a 2-2 draw with Oakland on March 30.

“We have been in one of those little funks,” said United president Peter Trevisani, who responded after United coach Zach Prince could not be reached to discuss Saturday’s matchup.

“We’ve missed some chances, opposing goalkeepers have been making (USLC) save-of-the-week winners against us, it’s been tough. But I have so much confidence in this team and in (coach) Zach Prince. Once we get a goal to go in, there will be a lot more to follow.”

United’s lack of scoring hasn’t been for a lack of opportunity. New Mexico has amassed 96 shots in its seven USLC matches, just four fewer than San Diego has in nine appearances.

But Loyal SC has converted a league-best 26% of its chances and scored a league-best 21 goals. United has converted on just 10% and has scored seven goals.

While the ball has not bounced New Mexico’s way recently, San Diego-coached Landon Donovan has been scoring often and winning the close ones. Loyal SC is 4-1-1 in matches decided by one goal or fewer.

Donovan, widely regarded as one of the best players in American soccer history after a long career with the U.S. National Team and several MLS and European professional clubs, is also the co-owner, founder and head coach of San Diego’s third-season USLC club.

Loyal SC (6-2-1) is off to a hot start, standing third in the Western Conference with 19 points.

“Landon Donovan was a great player and he’s showing himself to be a great coach,” Trevisani said. “It’s only taken him a couple of years to put San Diego near the top of the table, and I don’t think anyone’s surprised by that. I think it’ll be kind of a treat for our fans to see him.”

Saturday’s match is part of a difficult stretch for United, which will be playing its fourth straight USLC match against a club among the top five in the Western Conference race. Trevisani hopes the holiday-themed contest will be both a breakthrough for New Mexico and an eye-opener for the visitors.

“They’ve never played here,” Trevisani said, “and it’s going to be loud. Hopefully we can get a couple early goals and make it even louder.”

RELIEF EFFORT: Prior to Saturday’s match, New Mexico United and 1-800-GOT-JUNK will be collecting supplies to benefit families affected by wildfires in Northern New Mexico. Items can be dropped off a the tailgate lot from noon to 5 p.m. A list of needed supplies is posted on the club’s website, nmunited.com.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

• San Diego (6-2-1): Loyal SC has been everything New Mexico United has not thus far in 2022, leading the USL Championship in goals (21) and conversion rate (26%) while also ranking near the bottom of the league in goals conceded (16). San Diego’s front line of Kyle Vassell, Tumi Moshobane and Thomas Amang is as dangerous as any in the USLC and has accounted for nine goals on 41 shots. Vassell leads the way with five goals and 18 shots, while Moshobane has two goals, three assists and a team-leading 21 chances created. Midfielder Jack Blake also is an effective playmaker who scored the equalizing goal in Loyal SC’s 3-2 win over Tampa Bay last week. Goalkeeper Koke Vegas has 13 saves but has allowed 11 goals in eight appearances.

• New Mexico (2-2-3): With its attack mired in a scoring slump, United has relied on its defense to keep matches close of late. Even with rotating goalkeepers, NMU’s back line has performed admirably. New Mexico has conceded just six goals (one of them on a penalty), the fourth fewest in United Soccer League Championship play. Defender Will Seymore has played particularly well of late, providing a physical presence and disrupting opponents’ scoring chances. Seymore won five of seven duels, had four clearances and effectively pushed the ball forward on numerous long passes in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at Sacramento. Austin Yearwood and Rashid Tetteh also had strong outings, and Kalen Ryden’s return from injury provided a defensive boost.

NOTEWORTHY: New Mexico’s Chris Wehan surpassed 10,000 minutes played in USLC competition during Wednesday’s match. Wehan needs one assist to reach 30 for his career. … A sloppy playing surface at Sacramento’s Heart Health Park likely played a role in the scoreless result. Among the many slips and stumbles, United’s Justin Portillo and Republic FC’s Rodrigo Lopez both lost their footing and slid to the turf while attempting corner kicks, sending attempted crosses sailing out of bounds.

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