Home cookin’ was not all that tasty for New Mexico United on Wednesday night.
Sacramento Republic FC (10-5-6) netted two second-half goals in a span of four minutes and rode them to a 2-1 victory before an announced 9,318 fans at Isotopes Park.
New Mexico (10-4-8) grabbed a lead on Tabort Etaka Preston’s goal in the 54th minute, but it didn’t last long. Republic FC cashed in on a pair of defensive breakdowns, putting open shots into the net in the 57th and 61st minutes and United — in spite of numerous chances — was unable to answer.
United coach Zach Prince was generally happy with his team’s performance, a few ugly minutes notwithstanding.
“We created a lot of opportunities and were very dangerous in a lot of moments,” Prince said. “We were very bad in a five-minute spell, there’s no doubt about that, but we have to learn from it. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves for even one second.”
The costly defensive lapse, coming after United played outstanding defense for the first 55 minutes, was a bit baffling even for Prince and his players.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what happened,” defender and team captain Josh Suggs said. “It would be easy to say it was a lapse of concentration, but I’ll have to look at the video. Right now I have no idea.”
The result snapped New Mexico’s seven-match unbeaten streak and was its first loss since June 25 against Birmingham. But it continued a baffling stretch in which United, which leads the USL Championship in home attendance, has been better on the road than it has at Isotopes Park. NMU is 7-1-3 away from home, 3-3-5 at home with one of the wins coming at UNM Soccer Stadium.
“That’s just the way it’s broken down,” Suggs said. “We’re looking to be better at home. We’ve been successful on the road. We know what that’s like, but we want to host a playoff game. We need to play our best here at home.”
NMU certainly had its chances Wednesday, finishing with 63% of the possession and a 9-8 shot advantage. But several dangerous crosses went just out of reach, and Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello came up with a pair of big saves in the closing minutes.
Neither team seriously threatened in the first half, which followed the pattern of the teams’ first meeting, a 0-0 draw on May 4 in Sacramento. Republic FC had the only two shots on goal but both were long-range tries easily grabbed by NMU goalkeeper Alex Tambakis.
The action picked up considerably in the second half, and United was first to capitalize. Preston came up with a loose ball at the top of the Sacramento box and steered it past Vitiello as he came off his line, then stepped around the goalkeeper for a tap-in score. It was Preston’s second goal of the season and first since United’s opening match.
But New Mexico’s defense, solid to that point, lost track of a pair of Republic attackers in the ensuing four minutes and paid for it. Rodrigo Lopez assisted on both goals, finding first Sergio Gontan and later Douglas Martinez Jr. open in front for relatively easy scores. Sacramento’s second goal came after a United turnover in the defensive area, setting up Lopez’s cross and Martinez’s decisive goal.
United regained its composure after falling behind, setting up several good scoring chances over the final 25 minutes. Chris Wehan came closest to capitalizing, forcing Vitiello to make a leaping deflection on a well-placed free kick from just outside the box.
Wehan also had a brief opening just in front of the goal, but his shot was deflected away by a sprawling defender.
Prince emphasized his team’s quality scoring chances but conceded that the loss took much of the luster off Wednesday’s outing.
“Overall, this was the way we want to look,” he said. “There were a lot of moments to be proud of. Unfortunately, those moments don’t get you any points.”
SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC FC 2,
NEW MEXICO UNITED 1
Sacramento 0 2 — 2
New Mexico 0 1 — 1
Scoring: NM, 54th, Tabort Etaka Preston; S, 58th, Sergio Gontan (Rodrigo Lopez); S, 61st, Douglas Martinez Jr. (Lopez). Shots: NM 9, S 8. Shots on goal: NM 3, S 6. Corner kicks: NM 2, S 4. Goalkeeper saves: NM (Alex Tambakis) 4; S (Danny Vitiello) 2.
(Click here for United Soccer League Championship division standings.)