Can NM United keep it going Saturday at San Antonio FC? Here are five keys - Albuquerque Journal

Can NM United keep it going Saturday at San Antonio FC? Here are five keys

There’s some extra pep in the collective step around New Mexico United’s training facility these days, and why not?

United is riding a four-match unbeaten streak (3-0-1) and has played some of its best soccer over that stretch. NMU (4-3-2 overall) defeated Monterey Bay despite playing short-handed for most of the second half, won convincingly (3-1) at Loudoun United and has climbed into USL Championship playoff position despite having played the fewest matches among Western Conference clubs.

“There’s a lot of confidence in the locker room right now,” defender and captain Sam Hamilton said. “We go into matches feeling like we’re going to win. Now it’s up to us to manage the momentum and keep it rolling.”

It’s fair to say New Mexico’s momentum is about to be put to the test.

Starting Saturday night at San Antonio FC, United faces arguably its toughest three-game stretch of the season. After facing San Antonio (5-2-4), the defending USLC champion, NMU hosts red-hot El Paso (six-match winning streak) and visits Tampa Bay (four-match winning streak).

“We’ve had a good month so far,” United coach Zach Prince said, “but we have to keep building. We’ve got some tough games coming up, starting with San Antonio, who plays really well at home. It’s a big challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

Here are five things to consider about Saturday’s showdown at Toyota Field.

⋄ ALAMO MENTALITY: San Antonio FC has been remarkably hard to beat on its home pitch over the past two seasons. SAFC is riding a 20-match regular-season unbeaten streak that dates back to April 2022 and includes a 1-1 draw with NMU last September. SAFC is 2-0-3 at home this season.

⋄ BUZZING BEEZ: Facing San Antonio often seems to bring the best out of United’s Chris “Beez” Wehan, who has scored six career goals against SAFC. NMU fans are unlikely to forget Wehan’s overtime tally in a 2020 playoff match that gave United a 1-0 win at Toyota Field. Wehan posted a goal and an assist in last week’s 3-1 win over Loudoun United.

⋄ RED LIGHT/GREEN LIGHT: New Mexico will be without defender Kalen Ryden on Saturday as he serves a one-game suspension for drawing a red card at Loudoun United. NMU’s appeal of Ryden’s red card was denied. United will regain the services of Hamilton, who sat out the Loudoun match after being dealt a red card versus Monterey Bay.

“Getting my first-ever red card, college or pro, was a weird experience,” Hamilton said. “Under the circumstances, seeing the guys go out there and get three points was amazing.”

⋄ PASSING ON PASSING: San Antonio takes a remarkably direct approach with its attack, leading the USLC in shots (151) while ranking dead last in both total passes and passing accuracy (57%). United’s passing accuracy is 77% (13th).

Prince pointed to SAFC’s personnel and its swarming defensive pressure as reasons for its quick-strike mentality.

“San Antonio’s the best in the league at gaining players on MLS loans,” Prince said. “They have six or seven right now and they’re quality players. They also play a high press and create chances off that, but it can leave them vulnerable in some moments, too. We have to take advantage of those.”

⋄ 50-50 SHOT: Midfielder Daniel Bruce, who has missed four matches since suffering a fractured wrist, has returned to training and could be available Saturday, Prince said.

“Barring a setback, it looks like clear sailing for the El Paso match (June 3),” Prince said. “For San Antonio I’d say he’s 50-50.”

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