United resumes play in Oakland: Here's what to watch - Albuquerque Journal

United resumes play in Oakland: Here’s what to watch

Santi Moar , shown in action with New Mexico United in 2019, is eager to get back into action with the team Saturday in Oakland. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

It could be described as the match both teams have been waiting for.

After unusually lengthy breaks, New Mexico United and Oakland Roots SC finally get back to action Saturday night, squaring off in a relocated USL Championship match in Hayward, California.

United (1-0-0) hasn’t played since its March 18 opener at Miami and has completed a league-low one match. Oakland (0-1-1) has had its scheduled home opener postponed because of field issues and is one of five other USLC teams to have played just two matches.

United coach Zach Prince and his players diplomatically checked off the upsides of their two-week break between games.

“Extra fresh legs will probably help,” forward Santi Moar said.

“We had a week to work on what we’re trying to do before we introduced Oakland and started working on their tendencies,” Prince said.

With all that said, New Mexico is clearly ready for more competition.

“I’ve never had anything like this in my career,” veteran midfielder Sam Hamilton said. “Two byes to start the year definitely feels kind of strange. Any time you have more preparation it always helps, but we’re ready to go.”

The quiet part of United’s schedule effectively ends Saturday. They’ll host a U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday at Rio Rancho High School and play again the following Saturday at Monterey Bay FC.

But first NMU will take on an Oakland side that’s also undoubtedly eager for action. Roots SC opened with a pair of road matches, losing 3-1 at defending USLC champ San Antonio and playing to a draw at Rio Grande Valley before going on hiatus. Oakland has not played since March 19.

“Oakland’s definitely got players who can hurt you,” Prince said. “Edgardo Rito is one of the best attacking backs in the league, and they have some really dangerous players in (forward Dariusz) Formella and (midfielder Lindo) Mfeka. We can’t afford to have any breakdowns with those guys.”

Prince was happy with his team’s defensive performance in a 1-0 victory at Miami. United goalkeeper Alex Tambakis had to make only two saves, one of them on a lengthy shot from more than 25 yards out.

“Alex and our back line played really well,” Prince said, “but the pressure we got from our front line was really helpful, too. We need to have that again on Saturday.”

Prince also hopes to see his team create a few more scoring opportunities. United had just seven shots against Miami, although five of them were on target.

“I liked how patient we were attacking against Miami,” he said, “but at the same time, we could’ve been a little more dangerous. We’ve worked on that over the last couple weeks. Hopefully we’ll see the results on Saturday.”

NOTES: United is 1-0-2 in its series against Roots SC. NMU won 2-1 in Oakland last season and the teams have played to 2-2 and 1-1 draws at Isotopes Park. … Tickets are on sale for Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against NMSU UDA at Rio Rancho High. General admission tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at newmexicoutd.com. Reduced $5 tickets for Rio Rancho Public Schools students, staff and family members are being distributed through RRPS and can be purchased online through pa.exchange/marketplace.

Saturday, 8 p.m., 101.7 FM, espn+ (streaming)


New Mexico (1-0-0): United’s attack was not exactly daring in a season-opening win over Miami FC, but it was effective. NMU was content to maintain possession near midfield and was able to frustrate Miami and

Justin Portillo

win a defensive-oriented match. Midfielder Justin Portillo was in the middle of things for United, scoring the lone goal on a penalty kick and sharing the team lead with two shots. Defender Will Seymore also had a strong performance, taking on a significant role in New Mexico’s patient game plan and completing 88 of 104 passes. It remains to be seen how NMU will fill the void created by Cristian Nava’s season-ending injury, but midfielders Chris Wehan and Sergio Rivas could figure into things. Neither appeared against Miami but both played in last week’s officiated scrimmage against the University of Washington. Rivas has been rehabbing from a lower body injury and did not play in United’s preseason matches.

Oakland (0-1-1): Roots SC spent much of its first two matches on the attack but with little to show for it, outshooting its opponents 23-12 but getting outscored 4-2 and earning just one point. Oakland is dangerous enough, with standout defender Edgardo Rito often setting the pace. Rito assisted on both of his team’s goals this season and he ranks fifth in the USL Championship with eight chances created in just two matches. (Oakland’s scheduled home opener was postponed last week due to unplayable field conditions). Rito also scored a goal against New Mexico last season. Forwards Johnny Rodriguez and Dariusz Formella also are formidable on the front line for Roots SC. The back line has been vulnerable to counter attacks at times, putting goalkeeper Paul Blanchette under significant pressure. Blanchette ranks among the USLC’s top 10 with eight saves but he’s also conceded four goals.

NOTEWORTHY: Because of field issues at Laney Stadium, Saturday’s match has been relocated to Cal State University East Bay in Hayward, California, which has an artificial-turf playing surface. Including Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match at Rio Rancho High School, United will play its first four matches on artificial turf. … Wehan needs one goal to reach 50 for his USLC career.


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