Jerome Kiesewetter’s uniform was basically one large grass stain as he left the field Wednesday night.
Getting a start at forward for New Mexico United, Kieswetter took a pounding from visiting Rio Grande Valley FC’s defenders — but he ended up getting the last laugh.
RGV’s Wahab Ackwell took Kiesewetter down inside the penalty area in the 83rd minute of a scoreless match, setting up Justin Portillo for a penalty kick. Portillo delivered and New Mexico came away with a 1-0 victory in front of 9,774 energized fans at Isotopes Park.
Portillo’s fifth goal of the season capped a solid second half for New Mexico (8-3-5), which controlled most of the action and put together several solid scoring chances. United outshot the visiting Toros 9-6 and registered the evening’s only three shots on goal.
Even so, the home side needed Portillo’s penalty kick to come away with three points. Portillo was quick to credit Kiesewetter.
“Jerome was battling like he did all night,” Portillo said. “He put his body in front of every defender and just plays physical. He did a great job getting us an opportunity to win the match.”
United coach Zach Prince liked his team’s attacking mentality, particularly in the second half.
“I thought we showed good mentality in the first half but our execution needed to improve,” Prince said. “In the second half it did. We put a lot more pressure on (the Toros) and had a really good mentality. I’m happy with the way we looked.”
It was New Mexico’s first win at Isotopes Park since a season-opening victory over Las Vegas on March 13. United is 3-2-3 at home this season but one of the wins came at UNM soccer stadium.
“Every time we come out at home we want to play entertaining football and we want to win,” midfielder Daniel Bruce said. “Our fans do a phenomenal job supporting us. Fortunately, we were able to give them a good performance tonight.”
Wednesday’s victory didn’t come without some anxious moments, however.
Rio Grande Valley (7-9-2) had by far the best scoring chance of the first half, but Juan David Caezas slipped as he attempted a point-blank shot in front of the NMU goal, sending the ball left and wide of the goal post.
The Toros also amped up their pressure after Portillo’s goal, earning several set-piece opportunities over the final minutes of regulation and stoppage time. But goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and United’s defense calmly turned each one away, securing New Mexico’s fifth shutout of the season and earning Tambakis his fourth clean sheet.
It was solid team performance by a United lineup rarely employed this season. With regulars Chris Wehan and Harry Swartz out nursing lower-body injuries, Kiesewetter and defender Alexis Souahy got starts and made the most of them.
Prince smiled when asked about Kiesewetter’s physical performance.
“Jerome earned every minute he gets,” Prince said. “He does a great job using his body, protecting the ball and drawing fouls. He has an attacking mentality and he doesn’t give defenders any choice. You’re going to see a lot more of Jerome this season.”
With the victory, New Mexico climbed two spots to fifth place in the USL Championship’s Western Conference standings, just one point behind fourth-place El Paso, which has played four more matches than has United.
United and Rio Grande Valley will square off again Saturday at Isotopes Park to complete the unusual two-match series. Wednesday’s contest was originally set for June 22 but postponed due to heavy rains that made transitioning Rio Grande Credit Union Field’s infield unsafe.
NEW MEXICO UNITED 1,
RIO GRANDE VALLEY FC 0
Rio Grande Valley 0 0 — 0
New Mexico 0 1 — 1
Scoring: NM 84th, Justin Portillo (penalty kick). Shots: NM 9, RGV 6. Shots on goal: NM 3, RGV 0. Corner kicks: NM 6, RGV 4. Goalkeeper saves: RGV (Javier Garcia) 2, NM (Alex Tambakis) 0. Records: NM 8-3-5, RGV 7-9-2.
(Click here for updated USL Championship standings.)
SaturdayRio Grande Valley FC at NM United, 7 p.m., espn+, 101.7 FM, Estrella TV