United season ends in 2-0 playoff loss - Albuquerque Journal

United season ends in 2-0 playoff loss

A California flashback was not what New Mexico United had in mind Saturday night.

That’s exactly what it got.

Sacramento Republic netted two second-half goals and brought an early end to United’s USL Championship playoff run with a 2-0 victory at Heart Health Park in Sacramento.

Fourth-seeded Republic FC (16-11-8) advances to next week’s Western Conference semifinals, while fifth-seeded New Mexico (13-10-12) found the end of its road in Sacramento for the second time in four seasons. NMU dropped its playoff opener to Republic FC by a 2-1 margin in 2019.

Missed opportunities in the first half and some generally inaccurate shooting came back to haunt the visitors Saturday night. United ended up with a 16-14 shot advantage but put just one shot on target to Sacramento’s five.

Republic FC made two of its chances count, getting a breakaway goal from Maalique Foster in the 47th minute, and effectively clinching the win with a goal by Keko in the 74th. Rodrigo Lopez assisted on both Sacramento tallies.

United coach Zach Prince said his team’s spirits were low after the season-ending result.

“I thought we started the game incredibly well,” Prince said in a postgame interview. “We had great chances in the first half. But we made a mistake defensively coming out of the gates in the second half and got punished for it.”

Heart Health Park was not an enjoyable venue for New Mexico this season as it was shut out twice in as many visits. Sacramento finished 2-0-1 against United this season as the clubs played to a scoreless draw on May 4 in California and Republic FC took a 2-1 win Aug. 3 at Isotopes Park.

It seemed NMU’s fortunes might change early Saturday as the visitors forced several early turnovers and had golden scoring chances. Jerome Kiesewetter sent one attempt over the crossbar, and Amando Moreno fired another just wide of the right post.

Harry Swartz and Sergio Rivas also had quality chances late in the half but narrowly missed the target. Sacramento, for its part, had several first-half chances, including a shot off the right post by Lopez.

After a scoreless and largely even first half, Sacramento took charge in the second. Lopez hit Foster in full stride with a lead pass from near midfield and the Republic striker outran NMU defender Alexis Souahy to get a one-on-one shot past goalkeeper Alex Tambakis.

To his credit, Tambakis made a pair of stellar saves to keep his team in the hunt. He could do little about Keko’s blast from just outside the box in the 74th minute, which was set up by a United giveaway. Keko’s shot deflected off a teammate’s shoulder and changed direction on its way into the net.

Prince sent his full allotment of substitutes into the match, inserting Neco Brett, Cristian Nava, Devon Sandoval and Josh Suggs in hopes of finding an offensive spark. It was Brett’s first appearance after an injury kept him out for more than two months, and he missed a shot left of the frame on one of United’s few good second-half chances.

But after netting eight goals in its last three regular-season matches, United’s attack came up empty Saturday, bringing Prince’s first season as head coach to an abrupt ending.

“Sixteen shots and a lot of opportunities,” Prince said. “We needed to score more goals, no doubt about that.”

Prince said he will take just a short amount of time to reflect on Saturday’s loss before turning his attention to 2023.

“I think it’s important to reflect on this game,” he said, “especially in a knockout situation. But not for too long. We need to make sure we attack every single day to make sure we’re not in this position next year.”

New Mexico 0 0 — 0
Sacramento 0 2 — 2

Scoring: Sac, 47th, Maalique Foster (Rodrigo Lopez); Sac, 74th, Keko (Lopez). Shots: NM 16, Sac 14. Shots on goal: NM 1, Sac 5. Corner kicks: NM 2, Sac 10. Goalkeeper saves: NM (Alex Tambakis) 3, Sac (Daniel Vitiello) 1. Records: NM 13-10-12, Sac 16-11-8.

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