Technically speaking, New Mexico United will still be in the USL Championship playoff race if they don’t win on Saturday.
“The message is that this is a must win,” United co-captain Josh Suggs said of the team’s approach to Saturday’s showdown with Rio Grande Valley FC at Isotopes Park.
“The two teams are obviously competing for the playoffs,” Suggs added. “With five games to go, it’s a must-win.”
A glance at the Mountain Division standings certainly justifies Suggs’ sense of urgency. Austin Bold FC is in fourth place (the final playoff position) with 39 points and six games to go. United (38 points) and Rio Grande Valley (37 points) still have one game less to go and neither will have a head-to-head game against Austin down the stretch.
After a frustrating 2-2 draw at home with Hartford Athletic on Wednesday, New Mexico can’t afford to pass up any opportunity to score points at home. United also don’t want to slip into sixth place behind RGVFC.
“It’s a huge game, we recognize that,” United coach Troy Lesesne said. “We need three points not only to fend off RGV but also to try to pass Austin. We need a victory and we will pursue it.
Saturday’s game is a kind of endurance test for United, who will play their third game in seven days. The Toros haven’t played since last Saturday’s home win over the Real Monarchs.
United midfielder Saalih Muhammad admits that physical and mental preparation during a busy period is difficult, especially during a playoff chase. Yet both Muhammad and Suggs have said they savor the opportunity.
“We talk a lot about winning the tough times,” Muhammad said. “This is our chance to do it.”
“We want these tough times,” he said.
If the teams’ previous two meetings are any indication, the numbers for Saturday’s game will be tight. Rio Grande Valley defeated NMU 1-0 in the season opener in early May, and New Mexico tied with a 2-0 home win on September 29 – a contest yet to be won. until Chris Wehan scored in the last minute of the second. half-time down.
Lesesne said limiting the Toros’ opportunities would be critical again on Saturday.
“It’s kind of our standard all year round,” he said. “Other than a few outliers we’ve been so strong defensively and we have to have that mindset again or RGV can hurt us.”
As one would expect from their records, United and RGVFC have been involved in a plethora of close matches. NMU has scored 35 goals and conceded 33, while the Toros have scored 39 goals and surrendered 38.
United often found themselves defending a one-goal lead or playing with the score even in the dying minutes of the season, a stressful situation under all circumstances. Still, Suggs would be more than happy to defend a late lead in Saturday’s “up for grabs” game.
“We’re comfortable defending,” he said, “because we’re good at it. “
GAME DAY INFORMATION
• Saturday, 5 p.m., 101.7 FM / ESPN-plus (online streaming / Estrella TV
• United (10-9-6): With dynamic forward Amando Moreno still competing for the El Salvador national team, the New Mexico frontline must find other ways to produce. Local stars Sergio Rivas and Devon Sandoval did so in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Hartford, conceding heads on well-executed plays. Still, New Mexico were outscored 13-12 despite a significant advantage (63%) in possession. United need to put as much pressure as possible on RGVFC goalkeeper Tyler Deric with playoff prospects on the line. Look for Rivas playmakers Chris Wehan, Andrew Tinari and Josh Suggs to force the issue.
• Rio Grande Valley (10-10-7): The Toros struggled to score goals for much of the season, but improved their offense when they added Jonas Fjeldberg in late August. Acquired on loan from FC Cincinnati, the attacking midfielder scored two goals on 11 shots in his first three appearances and was the main catalyst for Saturday’s 3-0 win over Real Monarchs SLC. Fjeldberg scored, an assist and forced a corner which allowed RGVFC to score the last goal. He was then named to the USL Championship Team of the Week. Fjeldberg’s play also opened things up for 10-goal scorer Elvis Amoh.
• REMARKABLE: As well as supporting the home side, United fans may want to watch the results of fourth-placed Austin Bold FC in the home stretch of the season. Austin hosts the Real Monarchs on Saturday, then plays four straight road games in Birmingham, Real Monarchs, El Paso and San Antonio before finishing at home against Charlotte. … Moreno’s eye-catching goal against the Real Monarchs on September 18, a ball in the upper left corner of the penalty area, was named one of the five goals of September of the USL Championship.