A familiar nemesis landed another big punch against New Mexico United on Saturday night.
Hadji Barry blasted home a first-half goal and that proved to be all the host Colorado Springs Switchbacks needed to claim a 1-0 win over visiting United at Weidner Field.
The win gave third-place Colorado Springs (15-9-3) a six-point lead over fourth-place New Mexico in the USL Championship Western Conference standings. Each team has seven matches remaining, the last of them against each other at Isotopes Park on Oct. 15.
United (11-7-9) had an opportunity to pull even with the Switchbacks with a win on Saturday but was unable to put much pressure on goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell. NMU was outshot 8-4 in the contest and put just one shot on goal to the home team’s three.
“We played well in a lot of aspects of the game but it’s all about wins and pushing,” United coach Zach Prince said in a postgame interview. “We had a chance to push tonight and didn’t get it done.”
The upside, Prince said, was New Mexico’s defense against a Switchbacks side that came into the match ranked second in the USL Championship with 51 goals scored.
“That’s one of the best attacking teams in the league,” Prince said, “and we really didnt allow them to get in front of the goal. Only three shots on goal and one of them was from distance, so I’m proud of that part of it.”
Unfortunately for United, the three shots on target included Barry’s strike, set up when a lead pass from A.J. Henriquez gave him running room in the center of the attacking zone. Barry made a quick move that sent defender Kalen Ryden sliding to his knees, then launched a shot into the right net cords, well out of the reach of New Mexico goalkeeper Alex Tambakis.
It was nothing New Mexico hadn’t seen before. Barry scored four goals in as many appearances against United last season and kept his streak intact with his 39th- minute blast.
To be fair, Barry has tormented defenders all over the USLC. He won the league’s Golden Boot trophy as its top goal scorer last season and ranks second with 16 tallies this year.
New Mexico started the game in a defensive posture, seemingly content to limit the Switchbacks’ opportunities and look for chances to counterattack. As a result, Colorado Springs had 65% of the possession in the first half, and Daniel Bruce’s deflected shot in the 30th minute was the visitors’ only significant threat.
Prince was less than satisfied.
“We could’ve been more aggressive in the first half,” he said, “and maybe we come away with three points.”
Trailing 1-0, United amped up its pressure and came up with some early chances in the second half. Tabort Etaka Preston, who came on as a substitute, created several openings along the right wing but was unable to connect with a teammate on two crosses through the Switchbacks’ box. A third Preston strike rattled off the right post.
Neither team was able to put much together for most of the second half, however, and the Switchbacks went into clock-burning mode with substitutes and players spending extended time on the turf over the final 10-plus minutes.
New Mexico’s best chance at an equalizer came after a long Tambakis kick found Romario Williams heading into the Switchbacks’ box late in stoppage time. Williams brought the ball down for a shot, but his attempt was deflected and scooped up by Caldwell to preserve the 1-0 result.
United returns home to host rival El Paso Locomotive FC on Friday night at Isotopes Park.
COLORADO SPRINGS SWITCHBACKS FC 1, NEW MEXICO UNITED 0