United hopes for a charge vs. Battery in Charleston - Albuquerque Journal

United hopes for a charge vs. Battery in Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, gets most of the hits on Zach Prince’s personal résumé.

New Mexico United’s head coach has family in Charleston, attended College of Charleston and played his entire pro soccer career for the Charleston Battery – winning USL Championships in 2010 and 2012.

Saturday is a homecoming for Prince, as United faces the Battery in a 5 p.m. contest at Patriot’s Point Soccer Stadium. He won’t pretend it’s just another road match.

“My mom lives in Charleston,” Prince said. “My wife is from there and my in-laws live there. I’ve got cousins, friends from college and former teammates coming to the game, and we’re playing against a club that’s near and dear to my heart. I’m definitely excited about getting to see family and everyone after the game.”

Prince made a point to emphasize the word “after.”

“This is a business trip, and my full focus is on getting three points,” Prince said. “That’s just what it is.”

New Mexico could certainly use the points after a recent scoring funk dropped it below the USL Championship’s Western Conference playoff line. United is 0-2-3 in its last five league matches, but snatched a needed bit of momentum with a stoppage-time goal in last week’s 1-1 draw with San Diego Loyal.

Prior to that, NMU had gone nearly four full USLC matches without scoring, failing to capitalize on some stout performances by its defense.

But Prince and his players were decidedly upbeat prior to departing for Charleston. In addition to Harry Swartz’s drought-busting goal against San Diego, United got a boost this week from two players returning from injury. Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and midfielder Sergio Rivas will be available for selection to the active roster Saturday, Prince said.

“We’re all on the same page and we all want the same thing,” midfielder Daniel Bruce said. “We’re all very much results-driven people, and this is an opportunity to turn things in a positive direction.”

If New Mexico has been spinning its wheels of late, Charleston has been rolling backward. Since winning its season opener, the Battery has gone 0-6-1 and been outscored 16-5.

It’s been a rough transition for the club, which parted ways with longtime coach Mike Anhaeuser during the offseason. He had been with Charleston as a player and coach since 1994 and was Prince’s coach from 2010-16. Conor Casey took over as coach.

“It’s a new coaching staff and a completely different style,” Prince said. “They’re super high-pressure on defense and will try to knock the ball in behind you. We have the ability to expose them in that, but we have to be sharp in transition or they can expose us.”

United has been solid defensively, allowing only seven goals in eight league matches. NMU’s last opponent, San Diego, came to Albuquerque leading the USLC in goals but managed just one and could not sustain much pressure with its normally potent attack.

New Mexico regularly creates scoring chances but has lacked a finishing touch, scoring just eight goals in eight league matches.

U-23 KICKOFF: United’s first season of U-23 competition will begin with a May 26 match at the club’s Mesa del Sol facility. The U-23 squad will compete in USL League Two and play home games in Albuquerque, Roswell, Santa Fe, Taos, Gallup and Farmington. A full league schedule will be released soon. Roster and ticket information are available at newmexicoutd.com.

GAME DAY: NEW MEXICO UNITED AT CHARLESTON BATTERY

Saturday, 5 p.m., Charleston, South Caroliona, ESPN+ (streaming), 101.7 FM

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New Mexico (2-2-4): Efficiency has been an issue for United’s attacking unit, which ranks ninth in the USL Championship with 110 shots but is tied for 20th in goals (eight) and tied for 22nd in conversion rate (10%). While some of New Mexico’s big guns have struggled to finish, midfielder Harry Swartz has not. His tally against San Diego Loyal tied him with Neco Brett for the team lead with three goals. Swartz has just five shots, while Brett has a team-high 19. New Mexico continues to rank among the league leaders in defensive stats despite navigating some key injuries. Only unbeaten Louisville City has allowed fewer goals (four) than NMU (seven). Swartz has played a role, leading the club in tackles (15), duels (110) and duels won (59).

Charleston (1-6-1): The numbers are about what one might expect for the struggling Battery, which has scored the USLC’s second-fewest goals (six) and has conceded 16. Forwards Augustine Williams and Aidan Apodaca have been active, combining for four goals and 23 shots, but Charleston has had a difficult time maintaining pressure. It has neither scored a second-half goal nor managed more than one goal in a USLC match all season. Charleston also ranks last in the league in passes and third in fouls conceded (147). Goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky has been under fire, racking up 16 saves but allowing 12 goals in six appearances. The Battery does have a 1-1 draw with unbeaten Louisville City to its credit and has played three matches with 1-0 or 1-1 results.

NOTEWORTHY: Through five home dates, United leads the USLC in attendance with an average of 10,631 per contest. Sacramento (9,686) and Louisville (9,202) are second and third in average home attendance. According to soccerstadiumdigest.com, leaguewide attendance is up 26% over last season, when COVID restrictions were in place at numerous venues, including Isotopes Park. Charleston ranks 22nd in attendance at 2,882 fans per home match.

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