Anyone want to go mountaineering in September?
New Mexico United has little choice.
United host Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on Saturday night for what they hope will be the start of a climb in the mountain division standings of the USL Championship. NMU (6-6-7, 25 points) sits sixth in a confusing seven-team race with 12 games remaining in the regular season.
The top four advance to the playoffs.
The good news for United: Only El Paso (41 points) can reasonably be considered out of reach with two months left to play. NMU is trailing second-placed Colorado Springs (9-6-5, 32 points) by just seven points and could narrow the gap to four with a win on Saturday.
“Division matches are indeed worth six points,” United coach Troy Lesesne said. “You’re trying to get three points for yourself and keep your opponent at zero. At this point we have to take a series. We are leading 2-1 in the series against Colorado Springs and we have to bring the score to 3- 1.
The plan is simple, but United must start implementing it quickly. NMU has steadily fallen in the divisional standings during a seven-game winless streak (0-2-5) and has seen several first-half advances evaporate since its last win on July 12.
Co-captain Josh Suggs smiled when asked about his side’s recent woes in the second half.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Suggs joked. “We just don’t put whole performances in place. For some reason we struggled to get out of halftime and that needs to change.
United have scored a first-half goal and taken the lead in each of their last four games, but only have one second-half goal in that span – an own goal contributed by Phoenix in last week’s 3-2 loss to Rising FC.
New Mexico reckons they need more than one goal on Saturday if they are to defeat Colorado Springs. The Switchbacks lead the scorers with 45 goals and have two of the best players in the USL Championship at Hadji Barry (the league leader with 20 goals) and Michee Ngalina (eight goals).
“They have a very dangerous attack,” Lesesne said.
“Fortunately, playing Phoenix was great preparation for this because their frontline plays a similar style.”
New Mexico have had little luck stopping Barry, who has scored four goals in the Switchbacks’ first three meetings with United this season. But United had some success against the Colorado Springs defense and won two of those clashes.
During Friday’s press conference, Lesesne said a playoff berth was “still very achievable” for his team.
Suggs agreed but stressed that time is running out.
“We’re done with the ‘almost’ and the ‘but’, he said. “We don’t want to be that team that keeps coming together and never quite gets the job done. It’s time to start getting results.
REMARKS: Due to recent increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, participation in United’s three home games in September will be limited to 66% of capacity (around 9,500 seats). Fans are requested to wear masks when entering Isotopes Park and the halls. Free vaccinations and rapid COVID tests will be available in the tailgate area before the game.
GAME DAY INFORMATION
SATURDAY: 7:30 p.m., Isotopes Park, 101.7 FM / ESPN + (streaming) / Estrella TV
Colorado Springs (9-6-5): The Switchbacks drastically changed their fortunes with nine wins – as many as they posted in 2019 and 20 combined. The most powerful offense in the league is the main reason. Colorado Springs leads the USL Championship with 45 goals, including 20 scored by prolific forward Hadji Barry, who has seven more than anyone in the league. Yet Barry is not a one-man show. Midfielder Michee Ngalina has superb numbers with eight goals, 40 chances created and eight best assists. The Switchbacks defense allowed 35 goals.
New Mexico (6-7-7): The attack has shown a bit more fire since attacking midfielder Chris Wehan joined the club in mid-August – four of his five goals were with Orange County – but goals have remained scarce during the seven-year streak. United games without a win. Sergio Rivas scored his fourth goal for the team last week against Phoenix Rising. Midfielder Andrew Tinari has shown a knack for creating chances, assisting on five of his side’s 24 goals. New Mexicans Devon Sandoval and Josh Suggs are the only players to appear in all 20 games. Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis is in the lead for starts (19) and minutes (1710).
REMARKABLE: Forward Amando Moreno joined the El Salvador national team for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers this week and will miss Saturday’s game. Moreno played for El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this summer. … Saturday’s game is presented as Blackout Night, with all fans receiving black flags upon entering the stadium. United players will wear black and fans are encouraged to wear black.