Desperation was not on New Mexico United’s side on Saturday night.
Rio Grande Valley FC played like a club with their playoff hopes and handed United a decisive 2-0 loss in Edinburg, TX. The Toros (11-11-8, 41 points) closed within two points of New Mexico (11-10-10, 43 points) in the battle for the final playoff position in the Mountain Division of the USL Championship. (Click on here for the USL classification.)
Austin Bold (10-10-11, 41 points) also stayed in the race but did not significantly help his cause with a 0-0 draw against San Antonio on Saturday.
RGVFC, on the other hand, boosted their hopes considerably with a dominant performance against NMU. The Toros can clinch a playoff spot by winning their last two games – Wednesday against the Real Monarchs and next Saturday against El Paso.
United had the opportunity to secure a playoff berth with a win on Saturday night, but now need help stretching their streak of playoff appearances to three. NMU can still advance if RGVFC draws or loses one of its last two games.
New Mexico was significantly shorthanded on Saturday with five players absent due to injuries and two more (Josh Suggs and Juan Pablo Guzman) unavailable due to a build-up of yellow cards. United’s makeshift squad were simply unable to keep up much pressure against the highly motivated Toros.
Rio Grande Valley dominated the visitors 19-4 and produced six shots on target against that of NMU. Only two remarkable second-half saves by United goalkeeper Alex Tambakis kept the final margin from exceeding two goals.
United coach Troy Lesesne was not immediately available for comment following Saturday’s game.
Neither team threatened seriously in the first half as the only shot on goal was a soft header from RGVFC’s Christian Sorto which Tambakis easily handled.
Still, the hosts outscored New Mexico 9-1 in the first 45 minutes.
United’s best scoring chance may have come in the first minute of the second half, when a chip pass to Chris Wehan created an opening in the left side of the box. But Toros goalkeeper Tyler Deric made an abrupt save on Wehan’s shot to keep the score 0-0.
About a minute later, Rio Grande Valley capitalized on defensive sales from New Mexico. Sorto passed the top of the box to wide-open teammate Rodrigo Lopez, who pierced the ball at home for a 1-0 lead.
The Toros continued to press and added a well-executed goal in the 58th minute when Sorto received a center back and directed the ball past Kyle Edwards for a strike and a 2-0 advantage.
New Mexico finally put the pressure on in the final 20 minutes and nearly broke the shutout. Kalen Ryden directed a ball just off the frame in the 73rd minute, and Alex Touche crossed through the RGVFC box in the 87th that a defender nearly redirected into the net.
But in the end, the Toros handed NMU their second shutout loss in as many appearances at HEB Park this season. RGVFC won the Season Series 2-1-1 over NMU.
United end the regular season at home next Saturday against the Real Monarchs at 5 p.m.
(Click on here for match statistics.)