Schedule toughens for United, beginning Wednesday vs. Memphis - Albuquerque Journal

Schedule toughens for United, beginning Wednesday vs. Memphis

Twenty-four down, 10 to go.

While the finish line remains almost two months away in the USL Championship’s lengthy season, it’s fair to say New Mexico United is entering the home stretch. NMU has just five regular-season home matches left, the first of them Wednesday against Eastern Conference contender Memphis 901 FC.

The contest looms as both a stiff test and a big opportunity.

United enters Wednesday’s play in fourth place in the Western Conference and would host a first-round playoff game if it holds that position. It’s far from a sure thing, however.

New Mexico (10-5-9) is just three points behind third-place Colorado Springs, which it faces twice in the final 10 matches, but United also has plenty of close traffic in its rearview mirror. With 39 points, NMU needs some positive results to fend off Sacramento (37 points), El Paso (34), Las Vegas (33) and Los Angeles (32) over the season’s final stretch.

It won’t be easy. Seven of United’s 10 remaining matches are against teams currently in playoff positions, and two of the other three foes are still in contention.

A positive result against Memphis (15-5-3) would provide a major lift for New Mexico, which is looking to re-establish its home-field advantage at Isotopes Park.

“We want to correct our home form,” said coach Zach Prince, whose club is just 3-4-5 in Albuquerque this season but has excelled (7-1-4) on the road.

Still, Prince believes it’s more important to focus on the opponent than the venue.

“Home and away can start to be a thing in your mind if you think about it too much,” he said. “We can’t let that happen. When Memphis comes in here, we’ll be excited to face a top-quality team. There’s no fear or anxiety about where we’re playing. We’re looking forward to it.”

Memphis poses a significant challenge, coming in on a three-match winning streak that has vaulted it into a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference. The club ranks among the league leaders in goals scored (44) and fewest goals conceded (22).

Starting fast will be critical for United, as Memphis does an effective job protecting leads.

It allowed Pittsburgh just four shots in the second half of a 2-0 victory on Saturday.

BACK IN ACTION? Forward Kevaughn Frater could make his season debut after re-signing with United last week. Frater did not appear in Sunday’s match against LA Galaxy II but is expected to be available Wednesday after training with the club for more than a week.

Frater scored a team-best 17 goals for NMU in 2019.

TEXAS-BOUND: United sent midfielder Carl Sainte to North Texas SC on a loan deal this week. The MLS Next Pro League club, an affiliate of FC Dallas, has an option to buy the Haitian national’s contract at season’s end. Sainte, 20, played sparingly in his first season with New Mexico, appearing in five matches.

MAKING PLAYS: With Justin Portillo (concussion) out of the lineup, midfielder Harry Swartz picked up some of the play-making duties for United on Sunday. Swartz delivered three successful crosses, created five scoring chances and won seven duels in the 2-2 draw with LA Galaxy II.

WALK-UP WEDNESDAY? As of Tuesday, United had sold more than 7,000 tickets and was expecting around 8,000 fans for Wednesday’s match. NMU drew 9,318 for its most recent Wednesday home contest against Sacramento on Aug. 3.

GAME DAY: MEMPHIS 901 FC at NEW MEXICO UNITED

Wednesday, 7 p.m., espn+ (streaming), 101.7 FM, Estrella TV

PLAYERS TO WATCH

MEMPHIS (15-5-3): 901 FC has been as hot as any team recently, winning three straight to climb into a tie for second place in the USLC Eastern Conference and getting strong play

Aaron Molloy of Memphis 901 FC (Courtesy of Memphis 901 FC).

on both ends. Phillip Goodrum has been the top finisher, tied for fourth in the league with 13 goals, but midfielder Aaron Molloy stirs the drink for Memphis. Molloy has accumulated six goals, eight assists (tied with teammate Jeremy Kelly for second in the USLC), 125 crosses and 47 chances created. He has two goals and two assists in his last three appearances. Defender Patrick Seagrist anchors a back line that ranks fourth with just 22 goals conceded. Trey Muse has played all but two matches in goal.

NEW MEXICO (10-5-9): United continues to display some impressive moments but has struggled to put a full match together while going 1-2-2 in its last five outings. Encouraging signs were evident in the first half of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with LA Galaxy II. Romario Williams scored his first goal with the club and threatened on several other occasions. Amando Moreno also looked dangerous after entering as a second-half substitution, with veteran defender Josh Suggs and midfielder Chris Wehan creating numerous opportunities. Of more concern was New Mexico’s defense, which allowed two goals and several other close calls in the second half. United has conceded 10 goals in its last five matches.

NOTEWORTHY: United continues to lead the USLC in home attendance (10,786 per match), but Louisville City FC is gaining after drawing 14,673 for Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay. The crowd was a franchise record and USLC season high. Lou City ranks second in attendance at 10,403 per home match. … NMU midfielder Justin Portillo, who missed Sunday’s match after suffering a concussion Aug. 6 against Miami, remains out. … The 901 in Memphis’ club name refers to the region’s area code.

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