United continues string of lackluster performances, falls 3-1 at Rio Grande Valley - Albuquerque Journal

United continues string of lackluster performances, falls 3-1 at Rio Grande Valley

Rio Grande Valleys Jonas Fjeldberg gets past New Mexico defender Kalen Ryden during Saturdays match. Fjeldberg scored the final goal in the Toros 3-1 win. (United Soccer League courtesy)

A banner behind one of the goals at H-E-B Park on Saturday night read “Welcome to Hell.”

It seemed rather fitting for New Mexico United as the visitors had an all-around unpleasant experience in Edinburg, Texas. Host Rio Grande Valley FC scored three unanswered and relatively easy goals to hand United a 3-1 defeat.

It was the latest episode in a rough late-season series for New Mexico, which has gone 1-6-1 in its last eight matches. United has struggled to score goals over most of the slump and managed just one on Saturday, but defense was also an issue this time around.

Rio Grande Valley put three balls in the net, each coming on open shots on NMU goalkeeper Alex Tambakis. A well-placed serve over the defense set up the Toros’ first goal, and defensive lapses played roles in the other two.

“We started well but our mentality dropped way off after our goal,” United coach Zach Prince said in a postgame phone interview. “We didn’t execute. There was a lack of intensity that led to (personnel) changes in the second half. We were better after halftime but not good enough.”

Amando Moreno banged home the lone goal for New Mexico (11-9-9), which got off to a fast start and led 1-0 after 10 minutes. Moreno’s first tally of the season came after Tabort Etaka Preston pushed past the defense on the right wing, passed to Chris Wehan, who then centered the ball to Moreno for the finish.

But it turned out to be one of just two shots on goal for the visitors, who slipped to 0-3-1 all time at H-E-B Park.

A late-season loss in Edinburg effectively knocked United out of the 2021 playoff race. Saturday’s defeat carried no such dire consequences but was troubling nonetheless, as the remaining five opponents on New Mexico’s schedule all have better records than Rio Grande Valley (10-12-6).

United visits first-place San Antonio FC next Saturday night.

United will certainly need to tighten things up before that encounter as it played a significant role in its own demise Saturday. Several New Mexico passes in the defensive end led to turnovers and scoring opportunities for Rio Grande Valley.

The Toros, who improved to 3-1-3 in their last seven outings, held 55% of the possession in the first half and only a leaping punch-away by Tambakis prevented the hosts from netting three goals.

Tambakis could not deny Emilio Ycaza, who banged home a one-on-one shot after Wahab Ackwei’s serve over the top of NMU’s defense. Ycaza evened the score at 1-1 in the 15th minute, and Christian Pinzon gave RGVFC the lead seven minutes later.

Pinzon, who has scored five goals in his last five matches, gathered the ball near the top of the penalty area, tapped it to his left foot and fired past several defenders and a diving Tambakis.

New Mexico’s best opportunity to get even came in first-half stoppage time, when Wehan fired a top-spin free kick over the defensive wall from just outside the penalty area. But the dipping shot went right into the arms of Toros goalkeeper Tyler Deric.

New Mexico made several substitutions after halftime and held most of the possession after intermission. Devon Sandoval created a pair of early scoring chances, but fired a shot just wide of the left-side post in the 58th minute.

RGVFC effectively put things away in the 68th minute, when New Mexico got caught with too many players in the attacking zone. Rashid Tetteh’s attempted pass was intercepted and set up a two-on-one counter opportuntiy at the other end of the field. Jonas Fjeldberg finished it for a 3-1 lead.

“That was a great opportunity for us to make it 2-2,” Prince said, “and (the Toros) end up taking it the other way to make it 3-1. That was a really tough moment.”

United finished with a 10-9 shot advantage and 52% of the overall possession but was unable to put much pressure on Deric until stoppage time. Justin Portillo lofted a well-placed free kick into the box in front of a charging Romario Williams, but Williams did not make contact with the ball and it sailed wide of the far post just seconds before the final whistle.

“We’re obviously not in the form we want to be in,” Prince said, “but the only ones who can change things is us. We have to start putting ourselves in position to win games. That’s job one right now.”

RIO GRANDE VALLEY FC 3, NEW MEXICO UNITED 1

New Mexico 0 — 1

Rio Grande Valley 2 1 — 3

Scoring: NM, 8th, Amando Moreno (Chris Wehan); RGV, 15th, Emilio Ycaza (Wahab Ackwei); RGV, 22nd, Christian Pinzon; RGV, 68th, Jonas Fjeldberg (Ricky Ruiz). Shots: NM 10, RGV 9. Shots on goal: NM 2, RGV 4. Corner kicks: NM 5, RGV 4. Goalkeeper Saves: NM (Alex Tambakis) 1, RGV (Tyler Deric) 1. Records: NM 11-9-9, RGV 10-12-6.

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