Oct 18 – This one looked a bit like justice.
Iliya Ilic scored a goal in the 95th minute to help visiting New Mexico United win a 1-1 draw with San Diego Loyal SC at Terero Stadium on Sunday. The goal, transformed on a one-time cross from Chelo Martinez, came a few seconds before the final whistle of the match.
It was the third straight draw and 10th of the season for New Mexico (10-9-10), but it was considered a win. The point tied United with Austin Bold for fourth place – the last place in the playoffs – in the Mountain division of the USL Championship.
NMU is two points ahead of fifth place in Rio Grande Valley. The three contenders still have three games to play.
“It was a playoff game for us,” United coach Troy Lesesne said in a post-match interview, “there’s no doubt about it. Playoff game, playoff atmosphere against a very good team and that’s what we need. That type of performance is going to get us into the playoffs. “
Ilic’s late heroism stunned San Diego Loyal (14-10-5), who clinched a playoff berth and are trying to grab second place in the Pacific Division. It was a much needed turning point for New Mexico, who have been on the wrong end of several stoppage goals this season.
“I’m so proud of the squad to keep moving forward in this game,” said Lesesne. “I think we’ve been doing this all year. Sometimes we’ve failed in other draw situations or ended up losing a game, but the guys still believe in what we’re trying to do.”
Sunday’s game went smoothly for most of the afternoon, with United showing little statistical advantages. The visitors dominated San Diego 15-12 and framed eight shots to five for Loyal. New Mexico finished with 51% possession.
But until the dying seconds, San Diego goalie Austin Guerrero seemed like a lock on player of the game honors. Guerrero made seven saves, including two spectacular saves against Chris Wehan of New Mexico in the second half. United’s defense was also strong for most of the game. Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis made several tough saves, including deflecting a shot from San Diego’s Alejandro Guido over the crossbar in the 12th minute.
Defender Rashid Tetteh also played an important role for United, blocking a low shot from Guido on the line in the 51st minute. Tetteh put one foot on the shot, which then deflected up and out of the crossbar to keep the score tied at 0-0.
San Diego finally broke in the 61st minute on a well-executed set piece. Guido sent a corner in traffic and Douglas Martinez steered it between defenders and past Tambakis, whose vision was projected onto the game.
He remained 1-0 for the rest of the settlement and when Guerrero managed to stop Wehan in a head-to-head situation in the 83rd minute it looked like United could be heading for a relentless defeat. But NMU continued to press, forcing several late corners, including a late one in stoppage time. Loyal cleared Martinez’s initial serve, but the ball came back to him on the right wing seconds later. Martinez served a center flex in the box and Ilic, who came on in the 73rd minute, let his feet go to place the ball with his right foot into the net.
United return home to face San Antonio FC (13-7-9) on Wednesday, a game that was already on Lesesne’s mind on Sunday night. When asked if he was happy after his team’s dramatic draw, Lesesne replied, “No. I’ll be happy when we get to the playoffs.”