New Mexico United’s players were forced to face the consequences this week.
Days after a flat performance that resulted in a 2-0 home loss to Birmingham Legion FC last Saturday, United coach Zach Prince doled out what he felt was appropriate punishment.
“We had a pretty honest video session,” Prince said. “Guys had to sit and watch that match beginning to end. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but our fans had to sit and watch it. That performance was unacceptable.”
Defender Kalen Ryden did not give the game video positive reviews.
“The film was brutal,” Ryden said, “tough to watch. But the message now is put it behind us. There’s nothing you want more than to get back on the field after a bad performance. You want to make it right.”
New Mexico (7-3-4) will have that opportunity Saturday when it visits Monterey Bay FC (4-11-0) for an 8 p.m. contest. Monterey Bay has struggled in its debut season, allowing 37 goals in its first 15 appearances, and comes into Saturday’s match in last place in the USL Championship’s Western Conference.
Still, taking the newcomers lightly has already come back to bite two of the league’s top teams. Monterey Bay has a 4-2 win over Colorado Springs (second place in the Western Conference) and a 2-0 victory over Louisville City (second in the Eastern Conference).
“Monterey Bay is frustrating to play against,” Prince said. “They’re similar to Birmingham in that they sit back a little lower on defense and counter from that. It’s a good challenge for us because we didn’t handle that style very well last week. We’ll see if we learned from it.”
Prior to its loss to Birmingham, United had been on a seven-match unbeaten streak capped by five straight wins. All but one of those victories came on the road, where New Mexico is 5-1-1 this season.
Oddly enough, despite leading the USLC in home attendance, NMU is just 2-2-3 in Albuquerque in 2022 – a mark Prince is determined to improve.
“We’ve got to understand our responsibilty to the home fans,” he said, “and not just win on the road. But I think it comes down to having the right mentality, regardless of where we play. If we start thinking, ‘Oh, we’re good on the road,’ we’ll probably get punished again.”
After Saturday’s match, New Mexico will play three of its next four at home, including back-to-back meetings with Rio Grande Valley FC on Wednesday and Saturday of next week. Neither Prince nor Ryden were of a mind to think about RGV until their first matchup with Monterey Bay is in the books.
“Playing a team you’ve never faced is difficult,” Ryden said, “but there really are no easy matches in this league. So far this team has done a good job with travel and staying focused on the road and hopefully we can continue that. As much as we like to win at home with our fans, there’s something about silencing a road crowd that’s really sweet.”
Monterey Bay FC plays home matches at newly renovated Cardinale Stadium on the campus of CSU Monterey Bay in Seaside, California. The club is averaging 3,559 fans per home appearance at the 6,000-seat venue.
“It’s a great stadium,” Prince said. “We’re excited to play there and we’re expecting a tough match. I know (MBFC) is not where they want to be in the table, but we can’t take them lightly or we know what will happen.”
Odds are it could involve another unpleasant video session.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
New Mexico (7-3-4): It will be interesting to see what United’s attacking unit looks like after an ineffective outing in last week’s 2-0 loss to Birmingham. Coach Zach Prince has not
hesitated to switch things up. Chris Wehan, Justin Portillo and Harry Swartz are the only players to start all 14 of the club’s USLC matches. Portillo, who leads NMU in minutes played (1,212), remains the top playmaker with four goals, three assists, 40 chances created and 93 crosses. United’s defense will look for a return to form after several breakdowns against Birmingham. New Mexico is tied with Birmingham and Sacramento for the fewest goals allowed (12).
Monterey Bay (4-11-0): In its first year of USL Championship competition, MBFC has done a reasonably effective job putting balls in the net. Monterey Bay has scored 20 goals led by midfielder Chase Boone with four. This despite ranking second to last in shots (154) and relying heavily on counterattacks for scoring opportunities. MBFC’s conversion rate (18.9%) is third best in the league. Midfielder James Murphy leads the club in assists (three), chances created (22) and crosses (87). Defense has been a problem for Monterey Bay, which has conceded 37 goals (second to last). Goalkeeper Dallas Jaye has 25 saves and 20 goals allowed in eight appearances.
NOTEWORTHY: New Mexico continues to lead the USLC in home attendance, averaging 10,947 fans per home date. Sacramento (9,863) and Louisville City (9,657) are second and third, respectively. United’s crowd of 12,547 last week versus Birmingham was the largest at any USLC match this season. … Former UNM Lobo and New Mexico Sol midfielder Sam Gleadle joined Monterey Bay FC this season after playing for San Antonio FC in 2021.
— Ken Sickenger