Busy or not, March will go in the books as a perfect month for New Mexico United.
One late strike by Justin Portillo was all it took Saturday night for United to open its season with a 1-0 road victory over Miami FC.
Portillo got his opportunity when Miami defender Paco Craig was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area in the 85th minute. Portillo capitalized on the ensuing PK, whistling a shot into the lower left corner of the net for the only tally of the match.
New Mexico, the last team in the USL Championship to play its season opener, controlled the action for long stretches but neither team was able to generate many good scoring chances. Portillo made his chance count.
“I’m definitely confident whenever Justin Portillo steps up for a penalty,” United coach Zach Prince said in a postgame phone interview. “If you took a poll around the league, he’d no doubt be in the top five in that department. He is just so composed.”
Prince was equally pleased with his team’s defensive performance, which limited Miami to just two shots on target, both handled easily by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis. Miami had racked up 16 shots, seven on target in last week’s 1-1 draw with FC Tulsa.
“We didn’t give up many chances at all,” Prince said. “I think (Miami’s Florian) Valot had one opportunity that Alex had to deal with, but that was about it. Really happy with that.”
The match was a significant reversal of fortunes for United, which dropped a 3-0 decision to Miami FC in Albuquerque last season. It was the most one-sided defeat New Mexico suffered in 2022.
United used a patient approach to turn the tables, working the ball through the midfield and forcing Miami to play defense for long stretches. New Mexico finished with 55% of the game’s possession.
“We did a lot of the things we’d worked on throughout the week,” Prince said, “which makes getting the three points feel even better. It’s a long year so you don’t want to get too high or too low, but it’s important to start on a positive note. Winning in a tough place like this is definitely positive.”
Neither team was able to apply much pressure through a scoreless first half, though New Mexico did begin to force the action in the later stages. Santi Moar forced Miami goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas to make a scrambling save on a low blast from outside the box in the 55th minute.
Miami’s attack finally sustained some pressure starting in the 63rd minute, resulting in a pair of hard shots by Valot. Tambakis grabbed the first attempt, and the second sailed wide left of the frame.
New Mexico largely controlled the action from there, including protecting its 1-0 lead through the end of regulation and seven minutes of stoppage time.