Well-rested United faces Oakland Roots on road - Albuquerque Journal

Well-rested United faces Oakland Roots on road

Late-match heroics have been business as usual for Oakland Roots SC this season.

Oakland, which hosts New Mexico United at Laney College on Wednesday night, has been at its best with the clock winding down. Roots SC has scored 12 of its 24 goals this season in the final 15 minutes of regulation or stoppage time.

Late strikes have helped Roots SC piece together a seven-match unbeaten streak that has it just one point behind Phoenix Rising for the final USL Championship Western Conference playoff position.

New Mexico coach Zach Prince is well aware of Oakland’s propensity for finding the net late. Roots SC (4-4-8) scored in second-half stoppage time on March 30 at Isotopes Park to pull out a 2-2 draw and leave a sour taste in the mouths of Prince and his players.

United, which is riding its own four-match winning streak, hopes to avoid any late disappointment in Wednesday’s rematch. The key, Prince said, is getting off to a fast start.

“Oakland’s a good team and they’ve been scoring a lot of goals late in games,” he said. “But for us, the mindset doesn’t change whether it’s the first minute or the 90th minute. If we want to be in a good position at the end of the game, we need to focus on the first 15 minutes and build from there.”

The closing minutes of matches haven’t always been enjoyable for New Mexico (6-2-4), which has allowed four goals in second-half stoppage time this season and scored just one. That includes United’s most recent outing on June 4, when host Orange County scored in the 91st minute to cut a 2-0 deficit in half and later had a penalty kick opportunity.

Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis made a clutch diving save to preserve a road win for United.

“It’s good to have Alex back there,” midfielder Sergio Rivas said. “When the game’s on the line, you know he can make a great save. It gives us confidence.”

In recent weeks, United has been building confidence on the offensive end, as well. After going nearly four full matches without a goal, NMU’s attack has netted 13 in its last four outings.

“I think it’s a matter of having a lot of new players,” Rivas said. “Getting to know everyone’s tendencies takes a little while before everyone starts clicking. That’s where we are now.”

Wednesday’s match will be United’s first in 11 days, and Prince emphasized the importance of not letting momentum slip away during the break.

Midfielder Harry Swartz agreed.

“I think it’s good for the body to have a break,” Swartz said, “but we’re happy with the win streak, too, and we’re not satisfied. We’ve worked hard to keep improving and the coaches have done a good job challenging us and reminding us we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

INJURY UPDATES: Several key players are getting closer to returning for New Mexico. Defender Austin Yearwood, who has missed the past four matches, was a full participant in training Monday. Midfielder Josh Suggs and forward Amando Moreno participated on a limited basis.

Suggs has played in just two matches this season with a lower body injury, while Moreno is rehabbing from offseason ACL surgery.

COMING HOME: After Wednesday’s match, United will play three of its next four at home. NMU has played in Albuquerque just once since a May 7 draw with San Diego Loyal, which was its last appearance at Isotopes Park. NMU and Colorado Springs have played four home matches apiece this season, fewest among Western Conference clubs.

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