Home New mexico united United welcome league Open Cup darling Sacramento for showdown

United welcome league Open Cup darling Sacramento for showdown

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New Mexico United’s Justin Portillo, forward, dribbles in action Sunday July 31, 2022 against host New York Red Bulls II. (Courtesy of United Soccer League)

Sacramento Republic FC was the toast of the USL Championship last week and rightfully so.

The club brought positive national attention to the league, knocking out three consecutive MLS opponents en route to a US Open Cup final date. Sacramento will face Orlando City SC on September 7, becoming the first lower division club to advance to the final since 2008.

The Republic edged out Sporting Kansas City in a penalty shootout last Wednesday to secure their place in the title game.

Credit is due, said New Mexico United coach Zach Prince, whose club hosts Republic FC on Wednesday.

“Congratulations to Sacramento for reaching the Open Cup final,” Prince said. “It’s something all clubs in the USL Championship hope to achieve, and the format of the tournament makes it possible. Sacramento did a great job taking advantage of this and performed incredibly well.

That said, Prince and his team would like nothing better than to steal some of the Sacramento thunder in the USLC Western Conference battle on Wednesday. United (10-3-8) are fourth while Republic FC (9-5-6) are tied for fifth. The teams tied 0-0 in their first meeting this season, so Wednesday’s result could loom large in the race for playoff positioning.

“It’s a big game and we have a tough opponent to face,” Prince said. “We are pleased.”

Both teams picked up victories in the Eastern Time Zone over the weekend, with Sacramento winning 4-2 at Charleston on Saturday and United earning a 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls II on Sunday. Both teams are also playing again on Saturday, which means depth could be a big factor on Wednesday night.

Only two players, playmakers Justin Portillo and Daniel Bruce, have appeared in every United game this season. Portillo leads NMU with 46 chances created, while Bruce ranks second with 24.

Prince made it a point to rotate players in an effort to keep legs cool on the pitch. Midfielder Chris Wehan, for example, did not play against New York.

But Prince also has plenty of options available these days. Recent signing Romario Williams made his United debut on Sunday, and Amando Moreno returned after recovering from ACL surgery.

“Romario and Amando have earned their place on the pitch,” Prince said.

Jerome Kiesewetter has also become a key part of New Mexico’s offense in recent weeks, collecting two goals and two assists in the last six games after playing infrequently at the start of the season.

Prince admits his team’s depth makes it difficult to pick rosters, but it also allows him to second-guess opponents like Sacramento.

“It’s not easy to pick any position in the team right now,” Prince said. “Guys really challenge each other in training for spots, both starting and on the (active roster). It makes some decisions difficult, but sometimes it works to your advantage to have that kind of depth, especially during busy weeks like this.

POWER BALANCE: United ended July unbeaten, going 3-0-4 and seventh in the USLC’s weekly power rankings. Sacramento was 1-2-2 in the league in July but went 4-0-0 in June and sits eighth in this week’s power rankings.

NMU (38 points) could move into third place in the Western Conference with a win on Wednesday as Colorado Springs (40 points) is inactive. Sacramento (33 points) could tighten the race for fourth place if they win. Republic FC played one game less than New Mexico.

MATCH DAY: SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC FC at NEW MEXICO UNITED

Wednesday, 7 p.m., Isotopes Park, espn+, 101.7 FM, Estrella TV

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sacramento (9-5-6): Republic FC shares the wealth on the attacking side as striker Maalique Foster leads the club with four goals. Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez is the leading playmaker with 38 chances created, 23 shots, three goals and three assists. Lopez would no doubt like to forget Sacramento’s first battle with NMU this season as he missed a late penalty in what would end in a 0-0 draw. Goalkeeper Daniel Vitiello had a solid outing against United and has 35 saves and 16 goals against in 14 appearances for Republic FC. Midfielder Emil Cuello and forward Luther Archimede scored in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Charleston and were named to the USLC Team of the Week.

New Mexico (10-3-8): Will Seymore waited a long time to remove the zero from his “goals scored” stat line. The 30-year-old midfielder scored the decisive tally in United’s 2-1 win at New York Red Bulls II on Sunday, its first in 107 USL Championship appearances. Fittingly, it came on a header as most of Seymore’s 13 shots this season have come from set pieces or crosses in front of goal. Other stats speak more to Seymore’s contributions. He leads United in assists (1,091), steals (36), aerial duels (71), clearances (68 – tied with Kalen Ryden) and ranks second in starts (19) and minutes played ( 1,738). Justin Portillo leads the club with 20 starts and 1,785 minutes played.

OUTSTANDING: Sacramento leads the head-to-head series with United 2-1-1 with a pair of wins that left New Mexico fans with a bitter taste. Republic FC handed NMU a 3-0 defeat at home in 2019, their most one-sided defeat at Isotopes Park to date, and then ended United’s debut season with a 2-1 playoff decision at Sacramento. … NMU goaltender Alex Tambakis missed the May 4 game in Sacramento due to injury. Ford Parker posted a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw.

(Click on here for updated United Soccer League Championship division standings.)