Big city, huge stadium, important road matchup – that’s New Mexico United’s Sunday itinerary in Los Angeles.
With a full week of preparation under its collective belt, United will look to shake off a two-match losing streak when it takes on LA Galaxy II at 27,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park.
It’s the beginning of a busy week for New Mexico, which returns home for matches against Memphis 901 FC and Monterey Bay FC on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. It’s a chance for United to gain ground in the USL Championship’s Western Conference, where it stands in fourth place with 38 points. Third-place Colorado Springs has 42 points and is idle this weekend.
On the other hand, several teams are nipping at United’s heels, including Sacramento (37 points), El Paso (34), Las Vegas (33) and LA (31). New Mexico has gone 1-2-2 in its last five matches, leaving the door open for its pursuers in the chase for playoff positions.
“Colorado Springs is the team in front of us in the table and we’re focused on catching them,” United coach Zach Prince said. “We’re not looking back. We’ve got a tough matchup Sunday against an LA club with a ton of tradition, but we’re in fourth place and LA is in eighth. We need to go in with confidence, expecting to get three points.”
It’s something of an odd assignment for United (10-5-8), which has played its best soccer on the road this season. NMU is 7-1-3 away from home but cannot expect to draw much energy from a hostile crowd on Sunday.
Galaxy II ranks last in the USLC in home attendance at 325 fans per game and even that number may be inflated. The club has only reported attendance for two of its 10 home dates.
A sparse crowd figures to seem that much smaller in the cavernous stadium also used by the MLS LA Galaxy, but Prince does not see that as a problem.
“We kind of got used to playing without crowds during the COVID thing,” he said. “It’s a beautiful stadium and we’re excited to play there, no matter how people show up.”
Galaxy II (9-11-4) seems to have a similar outlook, having gone 6-3-1 at home this season.
Both teams could be a bit short-handed Sunday. Galaxy II will be without top scorer Preston Judd and defender Carlos Harvey, both of whom will be completing two-game suspensions. New Mexico could be without midfielder Justin Portillo, who suffered a concussion during United’s 3-0 loss to Miami on Aug. 6.
Prince said Portillo was feeling better during the week but declined to speculate on when he would clear the league’s concussion protocol or return to action.
“We have no timeline,” Prince said.
Portillo has been New Mexico’s top playmaker this season with 47 chances created. He takes the majority of United’s free and corner kicks and is 5-of-6 converting penalties.
Still, NMU has struggled to score goals of late and will look to break through against a struggling LA defense that has allowed 46 of them this season. United shots hit the post and/or crossbar four times in its shutout loss to Miami.
“We put ourselves in a lot of good situations, and I always have full confidence that we’ll score in those situations,” Prince said. “I don’t think there’s any sense of panic but there is a good level of urgency in our training sessions right now. It’s a results-oriented business and we’re focused on getting a positive result in Los Angeles.”
United will be looking for transition opportunities against Galaxy II, which thrives on possession and has the USLC’s passing leader in defender Liam Doyle. LA has been dangerous but erratic in terms of results. In its last five matches, Galaxy II has a 5-0 win over second-place San Diego, a 1-1 draw with first-place San Antonio and three losses in which it allowed a total of 11 goals.