The inherent cruelty of soccer was on display at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Cashman Field on Friday night.
New Mexico United utterly dominated the second half of its match against Las Vegas Lights, outshooting the hosts 11-3, putting ball after ball in front of the net and forcing a late takedown that looked for all the world like a sure penalty.
The call didn’t come, a goal never materialized and United was forced to settle for a 0-0 draw that proved helpful in the standings but was not wholly satisfying.
“Definitely a little disappointing not to get three points,” United coach Zach Prince said in a postgame phone interview. “We picked up an important point toward the playoffs and getting there is our primary goal, but I’m glad there’s a tight turnaround. We have a game at home Wednesday (vs. LA Galaxy II), so we can put this one behind us and get focused on that.”
Friday’s draw allowed NMU (44 points) to move into fifth place in the tight USL Championship Western Conference race, one point ahead of El Paso with three games remaining. Seventh-place Rio Grande Valley (42 points) hosts Louisville on Saturday, while Las Vegas (41 points) remained in eighth place after Friday’s draw with just two games left to play.
Most frustrating for New Mexico (11-9-11) on Friday was a golden scoring opportunity in the 89th minute, when Chris Wehan got past his defender on a move into the left side of the penalty area. Las Vegas’ Dekel Keinan swept Wehan’s legs out from behind to prevent a shot attempt.
Keinan received a red card, but the official ruled the takedown occurred outside the penalty area. United’s players and coaches spent several minutes questioning the call, but Wehan ultimately settled for a free kick that was headed away by a Las Vegas defender.
Prince thought the takedown occurred inside the penalty area.
“Yeah, it did,” he said. “It might’ve been on the line, but the line is part of the box. We had a similar call go against us against San Antonio, where they ruled a penalty happened on the line. They scored the penalty, we lost 1-0, so yeah, very frustrating.”
Friday’s controversial call was part of a wild final 10 minutes, where both teams had significant scoring chances. Amando Moreno and Kalen Ryden sent shots just over the crossbar for New Mexico, and Las Vegas’ Cal Jennings redirected a deflected cross too high in front of an open United net.
Jennings’ shot aside, NMU was the clear aggressor after a largely sluggish first half (no shots on goal by either team). Kevaughn Frater, Sergio Rivas and Wehan all forced Las Vegas goalkeeper Abraham Romero to make diving saves in the second half.
“The first half was a little strange,” Prince said. “There were a lot of guys going down and staying on the ground for several minutes. It was hard to get any kind of rhythm. But I thought we started building some momentum in the last 10 minutes and the guys did a great job carrying that over in the second half.”
The match was physical throughout with 35 fouls called (21 on Las Vegas), five yellow cards (four on Las Vegas) and Keinan’s red card at the end of regulation time. The home team finished with 59% of the possession but did not record a shot on goal. New Mexico had three.