Zach Prince’s former club could not spoil his homecoming Saturday night.
Neco Brett and Chris Wehan banged in goals and New Mexico United earned a 2-0 road win over the Charleston Battery at Patriots Point Soccer Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was United’s first victory since March 19, breaking up a six-match span during which NMU went 0-2-4.
Getting a win in Charleston was something special for Prince, New Mexico’s first-year head coach. Prince grew up in South Carolina, played collegiate soccer at College of Charleston and played his entire pro career (2010-16) for the Battery.
Prince had numerous friends and family members in attendance Saturday night. He was not immediately available for comment after the match.
Things could hardly have started better for United (3-2-4), which grabbed the lead on Brett’s goal in the sixth minute.
New Mexico had struggled mightily to score in recent matches, and Prince had stressed the importance of putting the struggling Battery (1-7-1) in an early hole.
Brett’s team-leading fourth goal of the season was also the 66th of his career, lifting him into a tie for fifth place on the USL Championship’s all-time list. Brett’s latest tally finished a well-executed attack that started with Harry Swartz pushing the ball down the left sideline. Swartz fired a long pass across the field to Daniel Bruce, who centered the ball to Brett.
With his back to the goal, Brett settled the ball, then turned and fired a right-footed shot past Charleston goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux.
It remained 1-0 until halftime, though both teams had legitimate scoring chances late in the half. Wehan got a running shot past Fauroux in the 40th minute that Battery defender Brett St. Martin just managed to clear away. Charleston’s Aidan Apodaca later headed a close shot on frame, but NMU goalkeeper Alex Tambakis reached up to deflect the ball over the crossbar.
Tambakis and midfielder Sergio Rivas returned to action for New Mexico after missing several games with injuries. Both would play key roles.
Tambakis came up with three saves and earned his second clean sheet of the season. He continued a stretch of solid play by New Mexico’s defense, which has allowed just seven goals in nine matches — tied for the fewest in the USL Championship.
“Man, it feels amazing,” Tambakis said of the win. “I was gone for four weeks with an injury, and it just feels so good to come back and help my team again. Getting three points is the best.”
Rivas, meanwhile, was part of a well-played give-and-go with Wehan in the opening seconds of the second half.
Off the opening kickoff, Wehan came up with a steal, dribbled the ball up the center of the field and passed left to Rivas, who promptly centered it back toward the top of the penalty area. The ball deflected off a defender before Wehan regained possession and rifled a shot into the net with his left foot.
Wehan’s first goal of the USLC season gave United a 2-0 lead and appeared to take some of the steam out of the Battery, which has not scored more than one goal in a match all season.
Charleston finished with a 14-13 edge in shots and 52% possession but was unable to put together many serious threats. New Mexico had a 5-3 advantage in shots on target.
United returns home to host Phoenix Rising FC this coming Saturday for what will be the third meeting between the clubs this season. Phoenix won the first two by 2-1 and 1-0 margins in Chandler, Arizona. The second was a U.S. Open Cup contest.
NEW MEXICO UNITED 2, CHARLESTON BATTERY 0
New Mexico 1 1 — 2
Charleston 0 0 —0
Scoring: NM, 6th, Neco Brett (Daniel Bruce); NM, 46th, Chris Wehan. Shots: C 14, NM 13. Shots on goal: NM 5, C 3. Corner kicks: C 7, NM 4. Goalkeeper saves: NM (Alex Tambakis) 3, C (Hugo Fauroux) 2.
(Click here for updated United Soccer League Championship division standings.)