Saturday’s belated Cinco de Mayo party lasted just long enough for New Mexico United fans.
Harry Swartz hammered in a rebound goal in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time and United, which had played with a man advantage since the 79th minute, pulled out a 1-1 draw with San Diego Loyal SC in front of a large, festive crowd at Isotopes Park.
It wasn’t a victory for the home side, but somehow this felt like one. Swartz’s goal broke up a scoring drought that covered nearly four full matches and prevented what would have been another intensely frustrating evening for New Mexico and its fans.
San Diego’s lone goal came in first-half stoppage time when Kyle Vassell converted on a breakaway. It was one of just two legitimate scoring chances in the first half for Loyal SC, a club that came in leading the USL Championship with 21 goals.
Instead, Swartz and his teammates sent home a season-best crowd announced by the club at 12,709 (though uslsoccer.com announced it at 12,079) on a positive note while getting an annoying scoring drought off their collective radar.
“Obviously it felt good,” Swartz said. “We just had chance after chance and it just felt like a goal was going to come. I’m glad it finally did.”
Head coach Zach Prince emphasized that United was not satisfied playing to a draw at home. Still, Prince acknowledged the importance of finishing on a high note against a quality opponent.
“This is the way we want to play,” Prince said. “San Diego’s probably feeling pretty lucky to get away with a point right now and that’s because of the performance our guys gave. We need to play for three points not one, but there are a ton of positives to take away from this one. We can build off this.”
Until Swartz’s drought-buster, Saturday was beginning to feel less like Cinco de Mayo and more like Groundhog Day. United fans had seen this plot play out before.
New Mexico dominated possession (62%), outshot San Diego 14-9 overall and put six shots on net to the visitors’ four. Still, Loyal SC nursed its 1-0 lead into extra time and appeared set to steal a victory in its first visit to Isotopes Park.
Things began to change in the 79th minute, when San Diego’s Collin Martin took down NMU’s Cristian Nava from behind and picked up his second yellow card. Martin entered the game at halftime as a substitute but had to leave with a red card.
United turned up its pressure and nearly came up with a tying goal on several occasions. Daniel Bruce nearly managed to deflect a loose ball into the net, and Raddy Ovouka sent a bullet toward the left post that San Diego goalkeeper Ruiz Ojeda was able to grab.
New Mexico’s pressure finally paid off in stoppage time when Bruce came open on the left side of the penalty area and blasted a shot on goal. Ojeda deflected the ball, which then bounced off the left post and rebounded to Swartz, who sent a low shot into the net.
“Honestly, just right place at the right time,” Swartz said. “Brucey made a great play and the ball just came to me. Right place, right time.”
The same could be said for Vassell, who scored his sixth goal of the season after a New Mexico turnover in the attacking end. Vassell managed to seal off NMU defender Will Seymore and got a foot on the ball as he rolled to the turf, getting his shot past goalkeeper Ford Parker with just seconds left in the first half.
But Parker made amends with several big stops, including a one-on-one shot from San Diego’s Nick Moon in the 57th minute.
“That was a great stop,” Prince said.
NEW MEXICO UNITED 1, SAN DIEGO LOYAL SC 1
San Diego 1 0 — 1
New Mexico 0 1 —1
Scoring: SD, 45+1, Kyle Vassell (Tumi Moshobane); NM, 90+4, Harry Swartz. Shots: NM 14, SD 9. Shots on goal: NM 6, SD 4. Corner kicks: NM 7, SD 2. Goalkeeper saves: NM (Ford Parker) 3, SD (Ruiz Ojeda) 5.
SATURDAY: New Mexico United at Charleston Battery, 5 p.m., ESPN+, 101.7 FM