Man on the Pitch: A United Lesson

By J.J. Buck

New Mexico United at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, 3 p.m. Kick-off, (ESPN+, KOAT 7)

A wonder touch from the head of Romeo Parkes put New Mexico on the board just five minuets into their match at Phoenix Rising last Saturday. It was a fantastic start to one of the most anticipated matches on United’s 20-game schedule against what has become, in just one year, public enemy number one for fans of the black-and-yellow. Phoenix would quickly reestablish themselves showing the visitors a level they have not seen this season. Rising would take a 2-1 lead into the half as they flashed their speed on the wings and ability to finish in the final third. Man-of -the-match Junior Flemmings would cap off his hat trick with a second half brace. The final, 5-2, in favor of Phoenix.

All streaks must come to an end and United’s undefeated streak against Phoenix (two draws, win in penalties) was snapped in viscous fashion. There were a lot of questions on this weeks conference call regarding the emotions following a match in which Phoenix had their way; were the players overwhelmed, shocked or now questioning their ability?

“We’re walking off (the field) it’s not feeling like we were intimated at any point it was just, they are a good team, they capitalized on their chances and we need to just fix those little moments and we’re looking at ourselves and not anyone else” said United midfielder Andrew Tinari on this weeks conference call.

That’s sport. You’ll have good days and bad days. United faced a team that showed them the level they’ll need to match if they want to do something special this season.

Head coach Troy Lesesne did not mince words when talking about his teams performance, “Mistakes were made and Phoenix was better on the night. You can’t call it any other way whenever it’s five-to-two. They executed and we did not. That’s were it starts and stops.”

United still hold the top spot in Group C. Saturday at Colorado Springs begins a stretch of three games in eight days against group opponents. Again, all on the road.

Lesesne expected everyone back in training who has missed out due to injury, including striker Devon Sandoval. It was announced last week that defender Justin Schmidt is expected to miss the remainder of the season following foot surgery.

In Sandoval’s absence, Parkes has played as the teams number nine. Parkes looked more comfortable up top beginning with the match at Oklahoma City. He was seeing more of the ball and thus able to show his ability to distribute and finish. The depth has been a positive for United this year and now the challenge for Lesesne is to try and keep getting the best out of Parkes with their first choice striker back. Lesesne praised Parkes play, but knows just how much Sandoval means to the team.

“There’s a calming presence to Dev. He’s not a loud guy necessarily, but he’s a really strong personality and that type of personality in a match where it’s getting a little bit stretched or in the match verse Phoenix were it’s getting a little bit stretched or maybe chaotic, Dev has the ability to have a calming presence,” said Lesesne.

Both will get their chances in the upcoming week as squad rotation will be key in the coming days. Lesesne shared his thought process going into the week ahead, “Individually personnel wise we just want to make sure we are in a good position as I evaluate Saturday, Wednesday Saturday, to keep everyone fresh, to keep everyone focused towards not just three points, we want to try and pick up a lot of points here in the next week given they are all Group C matches.”

Group C Standings (W – L – T)

  1. New Mexico (3-2-1) 10pts
  2. El Paso Locomotive FC (2-2-2) 8pts
  3. Real Monarchs FC (1-2-1) 4pts
  4. Colorado Springs (1-3-1) 4pts

Switchbacks Looking for Momentum 

Despite losing 2-1 in the restart to New Mexico, Colorado Springs showed promise as first year head coach Alan Koch finally was able to get back to work with his squad. A team who welcomed 17 new payers to this years roster. In their next game, at Real Monarchs, the Switchbacks found themselves down a man and two goals in the 73′. As hope was fading COS scored in the 89′ and 90+5 to rip a point from SLC. Unfortunately, they could not build off that finish as that would be the only point earned through four games, (L, D, L, L).

Two late goals from Uvaldo Luna made last weeks 4-2 loss at El Paso look a little better on the match report, however the damage was already done.

El Paso converted a free kick in the 17′ (Dylan Mares, 1-0), made COS pay off a turnover in their own end in the 21′ (Aaron Gomez, 2-0), finished a quality passing clinic in the 66′ (Louis Herrera, 3-0) and before the smoke could clear out of Southwest University Park put one more past the keeper in the 68′ (Herrera, 4-0).

Saturday is the first of six straight games at home for the Switchbacks, four of which are against group foes.

“I think your going to see us grow during the course of these six games,” Koch told the teams website, adding, “We don’t want to take too long to show growth from a performance perspective, but also from a points perspective to.”

Round Two

This will be the second of four meetings between the two squads this season. The July 11th game will be remembered for Saalih Muhammad’s ridiculous volley opening the scoring, but it was a tightly contested match until Chris Wehan’s 87′ game winner.

The formations from that game, as you can see in the photo above, 4-4-2 for COS and a 3-4-3 for NM. The Switchbacks played a 5-4-1 (photo below) against the Locomotive last week. You’d think that would help them defensively, but as mentioned ELP put four past them.

Expect to see (#23) Uvaldo Luna in the starting lineup following his two goal performance. If COS goes back to the 4-4-2, the left winger would provide much needed punch with strikers (#9) Christian Volesky [1 goal, 7 shots/3 on target] and (#13) Aidan Daniels [1 g, 3/2] yet to take off.

Keep an eye on (#2) Joan Cervos. The left back has the second most chances created on the team with six. He’s showing off an all around game with an 82.4% pass completion rate while defensively he has nine clearances, six interceptions and 31 duels won.

Other Potential Game Changers 

  • (#17) W/MF George Lebese: 1 goal, 5 shots/4 on target.
  • (#7) F Austin Dewing: 5/2.
  • (#44) D Jordan Burt: 5 CC, 1g, 4/2.

There won’t be many surprises in group games soon as teams prepare to play each other four times. United has added a new wrinkle with the 3-4-3.

“Your seeing flexibility between the two systems this year and that maybe allows us to be a little bit more unpredictable to the opponent,” Lesesne said of his squad selection.

Josh Suggs, Daniel Bruce and David Najem are options as wing-backs in a 3-4-3. Tinari has played well in a center-mid/attacking roll under the nine as Amando Moreno and Wehan have held down the attacking wings in both formations. Whatever formation they play look for solid spells of possession and quality pass attempts. Lesesne was not happy with their giveaways against Phoenix.

The press has been key for United this year. That will be a focus on Saturday especially for Tinari who was not pleased with his defensive play last weekend.

“For me personally, in my position there was a little confusion with our press and where to be going. Where to go on the field related to the backs. I don’t think personally I did my job well enough,” he said.

Team defense has been the biggest change from last season. The Switchbacks only managed one shot on goal in the first meeting as United kept the box clean (18 clearances) and the chances at a distance. United will look to get back to that defensive presence against an attack not as potent as Phoenix.

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