United tops Galaxy II, clinches playoff spot - Albuquerque Journal

United tops Galaxy II, clinches playoff spot

United midfielder Will Seymore (16) gains possession of the ball during the first half of his team’s win Wednesday over LA Galaxy II at Isotopes Park. (Chancey Bush/Journal)
What a difference a week makes.

Under typical clear skies Wednesday and on a surface at Isotopes Park vastly improved from last week’s unplayable-field postponement, New Mexico United secured a United Soccer League Championship playoff berth with a 3-2 win over LA Galaxy II.

“We were doing some dancing. We were laughing,” defender Kalen Ryden said. “We were having a good time. We were enjoying ourselves.”

If New Mexico (12-9-12) wins its regular season finale Saturday at home against Colorado Springs and Sacramento loses its last game, United would clinch a home playoff game for the first time. With 48 points, United has already set a franchise record.

“We have a lot of exciting things happening,” said New Mexico coach Zach Prince. “A lot of momentum heading into the postseason and that’s where want to be.”

Harry Swartz played a big role in building that momentum. He turned in a game-changing five minutes early in the second half, to turn United’s postseason prospects from cloudy to bright and sunny.

Trailing 2-1 early in the second half, Swartz combined with a rejuvenated Amando Moreno, who looks fully recovered from an ACL injury, on a textbook one-two play to set up the equalizer from 19 yards out.

And five minutes later Jerome Kiesewetter showed tremendous hustle on an errant ball that appeared headed out of touch. As he collected the ball near the line, he was fouled. That set up Justin Portillo to blast a hard liner at Los Angeles goalkeeper Eric Lopez, who parried it out to the top of the penalty area where Swartz used a high, roundhouse kick to knock it into the near corner.

That turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 United victory and, coupled with El Paso’s loss Wednesday, punched New Mexico’s postseason ticket.

“I couldn’t get my foot that high,” Prince said with a chuckle of Swartz’s game-winner. “What it is is a real commitment from that guy. Harry, he has a nose for goals because he’s willing to put himself in the position where he’s going to anticipate faster. He’s going to run harder. He’s going to have more commitment to get to the spot than the other person so when he’s around goal, he’s always going to be difficult for any person playing against him because he’s willing and committed to do what it takes to have a final action on frame.”

The match started rather sour, however, as an attempted pass back from Ryden skittered under the foot of goalkeeper Alex Tambakis for an own goal in the seventh minute.

But Swartz showed his dexterity on the sidelines on a clever, toe-tapping turn to beat a Galaxy midfielder, then made a beeline for the offensive third, where he served it into the penalty area. And that’s exactly what he got as Galaxy’s Liam Doyle was called for handling that resulted in a penalty kick that Portillo converted.

Los Angeles regained the lead in the 32nd minute when Josh Drack delivered a pinpoint ball into Mike Salazar, who finished with a sliding attempt.

But Taylor substituted forwards Sergio Rivas and Kiesewetter into the game at the break, changing the momentum immediately.

“I didn’t really like our defensive pressure,” Prince said. “That’s why we made the adjustment and the guys that came in for the second half with the adjustment, how much pressure they put them under, how many mistakes were forced up on them, how many times were we able to get into attack transition, create chances. Credit to those guys that came on.”


STANDINGS: USL Championship standings

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