A lightning delay pushed New Mexico United’s game Saturday back about 15 minutes, and the team’s spark seemed to depart shortly thereafter when leading playmaker Justin Portillo left with a possible concussion in the 20th minute after having a collision with an opposing player.
What had been a lively, creative and cohesive United offense to that point turned rather stale and disjointed in the wake of Portillo’s injury — at least for the balance of the first half.
With New Mexico struggling to find consistency on the ball, Miami FC took advantage, sandwiching goals around the halftime break to come away with a 3-0 win with an announced crowd of 11,024 in attendance at Isotopes Park.
The loss is United’s second in a row, the first time this year New Mexico (10-8-5) has lost consecutive regular-season games. And it continues the team’s home woes as United is 3-5-3 at home.
While United did batter the goalkeeper’s best friend in crashing four shots off the posts or crossbar, losing Portillo made things particularly difficult.
“Justin is one of the best midfielders in the game,” New Mexico coach Zach Prince said. “Any team that loses Justin Portillo, it’s a difficult situation. But saying that, we have a lot of depth on our team. Will Seymore is a very good midfielder.”
But the things that Portillo bring to the pitch are not easily replaced, the coach admitted.
“Does Justin put us in rhythm, yeah, that’s his job and he’s one of the best in the USL in putting your team in rhythm and also being able to hit attacking passes that other people can’t hit,” Prince said. “It took us a little bit of time to adjust.”
What was more difficult from which to recover was allowing goals following turnovers deep in their own end, he said.
“You can think about it a little bit differently if you think the goals against aren’t self-inflicted. But they were self-inflicted. Turnovers in terrible spots,” Prince said. “We don’t even have a chance for the offense to set up for marking and pressing and counterattack. We’re just giving it up in such bad spots, it allows one-two passes and zero passes on one. So that’s where we’re really going to have to challenge ourselves.”
United’s Chris Wehan was the main thorn in Miami’s side — almost, twice hitting the post and also sailing an early volley over top of the net.
To see such solid chances consistently go awry was difficult, Prince said.
“Really bizarre overall, that the type of attacking football that I want to play, creating multiple chances,” he said. “Multiple attacks. Unbelievable in a lot of aspects and to come up with zero is strange.”
In a way, however, it was encouraging, said defender Josh Suggs.
“To be honest, we’ll probably sit on the loss (Saturday) and already be looking forward to next week,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get on the field again to train. I feel like we did some things pretty well (Saturday) and we played attacking soccer, some of the best attacking soccer that I’ve played since I’ve been at this club.”