It’s no exaggeration to say New Mexico United’s home match against LA Galaxy II on Wednesday has a playoff feel.
In the USL Championship’s wild Western Conference, eight teams are still in the hunt for three postseason berths with just 10 days left in the regular season. United and Galaxy II are among them.
Nearly all of the USLC’s remaining drama will be played out in the West. There could still be some juggling of seeding positions in the relatively boring Eastern Conference, but all seven playoff spots are locked up.
Not so in the West.
Four clubs (San Antonio, San Diego, Colorado Springs and Sacramento) have secured playoff spots, but only last-place Orange County has been eliminated from the 13-team race. Going into Wednesday’s action, fifth-place New Mexico and 11th-place LA Galaxy II were separated by only four points.
United (11-9-11) is in the driver’s seat in terms of securing one of the last three playoff spots. NMU has three matches remaining (four of the other contenders have just two), with two of the three at home. In fact, a win Wednesday would pull New Mexico to within two points of fourth-place Sacramento, which is idle and has two matches remaining.
United’s only problem is that playing at home has not been much of an advantage this season. NMU is just 4-6-5 in front of its home fans, something defender Kalen Ryden is determined to change.
“They are the 12th man here in Albuquerque, and we love them so much,” Ryden said of the fans. “We always want to put on a performance for them. We haven’t been the best at home and, you know, we owe them some good performances and some wins. That’s exactly what we plan to do.”
United played to draws in its last two outings, on the road in San Antonio and Las Vegas. New Mexico’s previous matchup against LA Galaxy II also ended in a draw, 2-2, on Aug. 14 in Southern California.
Playing to 11 draws has helped keep NMU in playoff position, but coach Zach Prince knows his club badly needs a win Wednesday. United’s final two matches are against playoff qualifiers San Diego and Colorado Springs.
In spite of their subpar home record, Prince said his players are looking forward to returning to Isotopes Park. United has not played at home since Sept. 2.
“We are looking to get three points at home,” Prince said, “and it’s really important for us to do it in front of our home fans. We are just so excited.”
New Mexico is hoping to build off a solid second-half performance in last week’s 0-0 draw at Las Vegas. United outshot Lights FC 11-3 in the second half and controlled the action – but failed to put a ball in the net.
“Too many chances not to score in that game,” Prince said. “But the reality is, it doesn’t change our approach to this game.”
United figures to have scoring chances against Galaxy II, which has conceded the most goals (56) in the Western Conference. The question is whether or not New Mexico can capitalize. United’s 41 goals are the second fewest in the Western Conference. (Las Vegas has 36).