New Mexico United did not get all the favorable bounces Saturday, but it got one big one.
Justin Portillo scored on a first-half rocket and United was gifted a second-half own goal that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 road victory over Indy Eleven.
Indy cut a 2-0 deficit in half in the 80th minute and applied considerable pressure in the closing minutes. But New Mexico made the lead stand up, winning its third straight match and handing the hosts their first defeat in Indianapolis this season.
“Tough place to play and a really good win for us,” United coach Zach Prince said in a postgame phone interview. “I thought we played really well under the circumstances, traveling two time zones and adjusting to the turf here. Very happy to come away with three points.”
New Mexico (5-2-4) appeared a bit out of sync early, missing connections on several passes and generating few scoring chances for the first 30 minutes. Prince attributed it to the worn artificial turf at Michael Carroll Stadium, which is scheduled to be replaced prior to Indy Eleven’s next home match on July 2.
“It just wasn’t like anything we’re used to,” Prince said. “It was kind of matted down and the ball didn’t run like you might expect. It took us a while to get used to it.”
New Mexico began to sustain pressure late in the first half and capitalized on its first significant shot on goal. Chris Wehan drew a pair of defenders to the upper left corner of the penalty area, then dropped a short pass to the oncoming Portillo, who one-timed a bending left-footer into the back of the net.
Portillo’s third goal of the season (all of them scored in the past two games) put NMU up 1-0 in the 39th minute.
“Right before that we’d started to establish our attack a little bit,” Prince said. “You could see the momentum switching a little bit, then Beez (Wehan) lays the ball off to Justin and he just makes an incredible strike. That was amazing.”
United nearly made it 2-0 early in the second half when Indy goalkeeper Tim Trilk had to dive to deflect away a Sergio Rivas shot. The rebound bounced just beyond the reach of NMU’s Cristian Nava, who was wide open in front of the goal.
But the visitors caught a big break when Indy’s Mechack Jerome briefly took his eyes off a backward pass from teammate Alex McQueen. The ball rolled over Jerome’s foot and trickled into the goal to make it 2-0 in the 63rd minute.
“That definitely changed the game,” Prince said. “I feel for Mechack, to be honest. He’s a good player and a really good guy. At the same time, I was really happy for us.”
Indy Eleven (5-4-2) got a goal back in the 80th minute when former two-time USL Championship MVP Solomon Asante sent a well-placed centering pass to Stefano Pinho, who converted with a sliding strike.
“Any time Solomon Asante gets faced up, it’s a bad situation for the opposing team,” Prince said.
The goal appeared to energize the home team, which amped up its attack during the closing minutes. Indy Eleven finished with 57% possession and outshot United 9-4.
But goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and United’s defense were up to the task. Tambakis finished with four saves, including a leaping punch-away of a Noah Powder blast late in the first half.
NEW MEXICO UNITED 2, INDY ELEVEN 1
New Mexico 1 1 — 2
Indy 0 1 — 1
Scoring: NM, 39th, Justin Portillo (Chris Wehan); NM, 63rd, Mechack Jerome (own goal); I, 80th, Stefano Pinho (Solomon Asante). Shots: I 9, NM 4. Shots on goal: I 6, NM 2. Corner kicks: I 6, NM 3. Goalkeeper saves: I (Tim Trilk) 2, NM (Alex Tambakis) 4. Records: NM 5-2-4, I 5-4-2.
(Click here for updated United Soccer League Championship division standings.)