Two teams with much in common could not find much separation Saturday night.
New Mexico United scored early and missed a potential late winner by a matter of inches, ultimately settling for a 1-1 draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Isotopes Park.
United and Pittsburgh came into the evening with identical point totals (43) and standing in fourth place in the USL Championship’s two conferences. The sides ended Saturday’s match even in shots on goal (3-3), corner kicks (5-5) goalkeeper saves (2-2) and goals.
Much to the pleasure of a large, boisterous crowd announced at 12,069, New Mexico (9-3-7) led most of the way after Jerome Kiesewetter banged home a goal in the opening minute of play.
But Pittsburgh (10-6-4) switched alignments and put together a lengthy stretch of possession midway through the second half, capping it with Dane Kelly’s tying goal in the 76th minute.
Both teams had quality chances to break the deadlock down the stretch – including a Josh Suggs shot off the crossbar and a stoppage-time blast by Sam Hamilton that sizzled just outside the left post by such a narrow margin that United fans roared as the ball bounced off the back wall and into the back side of the net.
But in the end, New Mexico left the pitch with its second straight home draw. The single point moved NMU into a third-place tie with idle San Diego in the USLC’s Western Conference.
“I thought we were good for long portions of the match,” United coach Zach Prince said. “(The Riverhounds) changed systems in the second half and we probably didn’t adapt quick enough. Pittsburgh’s a good team in the Eastern Conference and I’m sure they’ll do well. But with that said, we need to get three points from matches like these.”
“I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room who feels good about a tie at home,” he said. “That’s not up to our standards.”
With many fans decked out in costumes and United players sporting colorful alternate jerseys for Meow Wolf Night, the home team wasted no time energizing a crowd apparently unfazed by 98-degree heat.
Neco Brett intercepted a Pittsburgh pass near midfield, turned and led Kieswetter with pass down the right wing. Kiesewetter made a run into the box and fired a low shot across the goal mouth and into the left-side netting to make the score 1-0.
“Pittsburgh’s not an expansive team,” Prince said, “so we knew if they turned it over we had to punish them right away. We did that and it was a great start.”
In spite of solid chances on both ends, including another Kiesewetter shot that skipped just wide, New Mexico held its 1-0 margin through halftime.
After Suggs’ shot deflected off the crossbar in the 60th minute, Pittsburgh switched things up with several substitutions and moved an extra attacker forward. It paid off when Kelly, the USLC’s career goals leader, got behind United’s defense and scored the 106th of his career.
“It was good and bad,” Prince said, “We forced them to switch systems because they weren’t getting anything. (Pittsburgh’s) Bob Lilley’s a good coach who has won more games than anyone in the history of this league and we knew he might switch things up on us. We just sat a little too deep right before the goal and it ended up costing us.”