Jul. 21—New Mexico United gets a moment in the national spotlight Wednesday, facing host San Antonio FC in a match that will be televised on ESPN2.
The visitors are rested and ready.
United comes into the match after a nine-day break, which coach Troy Lesesne says was much-needed. Prior to that span, NMU played five times in 18 days with three of those matches on the road.
Asked how his club spent its recent time off, Lesesne joked, “A lot of time at Top Golf.”
Beginning Wednesday night, Lesesne expects his players to quickly get back in the swing of USL Championship soccer. United can ill afford not to, locked in a remarkably tight Mountain Division race that has the top five teams separated by just seven points.
New Mexico (6-5-2, 20 points) stands in third position and will return home to host first-place El Paso Locomotive FC (7-1-3, 24 points) on Saturday night.
“We’re ready to go,” Lesesne said. “It was important to refresh physically and give ourselves a mental reset, but I think now we’re looking to build on our momentum from back-to-back wins. The energy at training has been fantastic.”
San Antonio (3-3-6, 15 points) is on the outside of the Mountain Division playoff scramble in sixth place. The top four finishers advance to the postseason.
But SAFC is hardly out of the hunt, coming off a 3-2 win over Colorado Springs Switchbacks and apparently having made the most of two international friendlies earlier this month. Lesesne said San Antonio has made some strategic adjustments since its 2-0 loss in Albuquerque on June 16.
“Their system has changed some since we saw them,” he said. “They have more of an expansive attack now and I think it makes them more dangerous. They definitely looked good against Colorado Springs, who we know is a difficult opponent.”
SAFC’s road win over the Switchbacks snapped a seven-match winless streak (0-2-5), during which San Antonio scored just five goals.
New Mexico, meanwhile, regained some of its swagger with home wins over Colorado Springs and Charleston, netting five combined goals in the two victories. Defender Kalen Ryden contributed his first goal of the season against Charleston and was named to the USL Championship Team of the Week for his strong all-around play.
With his team nearing the halfway point of its 32-game season, Lesesne hopes United can put together a hot streak and improve its position in the Mountain Division. NMU will face El Paso twice in its next four matches, its last two meetings with the rival Locos during the 2021 regular season.
“You usually start to see separation in the divisional races at the halfway point,” Lesesne said. “That may not happen in our division, which has been tight all the way. It makes every divisional match that much more important so we need to stay focused and keep getting positive results.”
That certainly includes Thursday’s appearance on ESPN2’s USL Match of the Week.
“When the spotlight’s on, you want to take advantage of it,” Lesesne said. “National exposure is good for both clubs. I think you’ll see us come out and compete at a high level.”
NEW MEXICO UNITED at SAN ANTONIO FC
7:30 p.m., San Antonio, Texas, 101.7 FM/ESPN2
PLAYERS TO WATCH
United (6-5-2): New Mexico’s attack has been all about sharing the wealth as 12 players have scored at least one of the club’s 19 goals. Midfielder Sergio Rivas is the team leader with three. Several players have also shown an impressive ability to set up scoring opportunities, but midfielders Andrew Tinari and Chelo Martinez have stood out. Tinari leads NMU with four assists and ranks second in chances created (15). Martinez, who has made just five starts, has a team-best 21 chances created and two assists. Each player has scored one goal this season.
San Antonio (3-3-6): Efficiency has been an issue for SAFC, which ranks among the league leaders in shots (177) but converts only 12% (tied for fifth-worst). Forward Nathan Fogaca provided a boost with two goals in last week’s 3-2 win over Colorado Springs, especially since San Antonio is without leading scorer Santiago Patiño (stress fracture). SAFC has an effective facilitator in midfielder Cam Lindley, who ranks fourth in the USL Championship with 27 chances created. Forward Marcus Epps (19 shots, 18 chances created) also is a consistent threat.
NOTEWORTHY: New Mexico will be without three regular starters, defender Sam Hamilton (fractured tibia), midfielder Harry Swartz and forward Brian Brown, for a second straight match. Swartz and Brown, who are listed with “lower body” injuries, could return Saturday against El Paso, coach Troy Lesesne said. … San Antonio’s roster features some of the USL Championship’s more eye-catching names, including single-named forward (Nathan) and a midfielder (Victor Giro) who goes only by his nickname, PC — the initials of another player Giro is said to resemble. SAFC’s roster also includes a forward named Abraham Lincoln, though his photo shows little resemblance to the 16th president.