By J.J. Buck
New Mexico United at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Saturday, Kick-Off 3:30 p.m.
Saturday’s trip to Colorado Springs will be New Mexico’s 13th straight road game since the restart. The road warriors have only dropped one game in group play, September 5th at El Paso (3-2 loss).
El Paso defeated Colorado Springs 2-1 Wednesday night. The result clinched the top two spots in Group C for themselves and United. Over their last eight matches El Paso has won seven and drawn one. The 22-point surge means New Mexico is looking up at a team for the first time in a while. The first place Locomotive sit at 24-points to New Mexico’s 23. Both teams have played 12 games.
The USL Championship confirmed their playoff structure this week with quarterfinal games beginning October 8th running through the 11th. Postponed games will need to take place withing 48 hours of the original kick-off. Group C will face off against Group D, with the first place team facing the second place team of the other division in the quarterfinals. San Antonio FC is in the drivers seat of Group D with Tulsa, Austin and Oklahoma City fighting for second place.
“It’s been a very long year,” said United defender David Najem on this weeks conference call, but he’s excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “Dating back to March, the first game, we had that pause. We were going through a bunch of different situations that were thrown at us and now we finally have the opportunity to play and clinch playoffs.”
United have sent a clear message that they won’t worry about what could be with a potential match in Albuquerque, it’s all about the business at hand. United forward Devon Sandoval said it bluntly last week.
“As far as the road trip goes, I don’t care, I don’t think guys should care anymore. We should control the controllable’s and expect to be on the road,” Sandoval said on the teams weekly conference call.
This road trip will feel different as New Mexico has rented out Weidner Field to host United fans and United fans only. Following recent changes with the states quarantine order, New Mexico residents can travel to Colorado and back without a 14-day quarantine upon returning, Colorado Springs will transform into a piece of the 505 for one afternoon.
The team was allocated 1,000 tickets for the match. When asked if their was any hesitation with potentially sending 1,000 New Mexicans out of state and back, United Owner and President Peter Trevasani said they did consider everything.
“I think we would of had hundreds of fans going there anyway,” Trevasani said last week when asked about the situation. He added, “From our perspective why not control the environment where we all feel a part of the same family. That will increase the level of respect and I think increase the safety.”
Fans who travel to the match can schedule a Covid-19 test with United following their return.
Moreno En Fuego
Following a brace in United’s last match in Salt Lake City, winger Amando Moreno tied Chris Wehan with six goals as the two pace all United players. His first year wearing the black-and-yellow has been exceptional.
“Coming into the team I just wanted to play…find my way into the starting 11 anyway I can,” Moreno said on this weeks conference call.
He has done more then just find a way into the lineup. He has solidified himself as a no doubt selection for head coach Troy Lesesne and a key component to United’s attack. Moreno leads the team with 14 shots-on-target and has formed a tremendous partnership with fellow winger Chris Wehan, who has assisted on multiple Moreno goals this season.
When asked about his relationship with Wehan, Moreno seemed amazed himself how well it has gone, “I think it’s just been really natural. Chris is an insane player.”
Moreno praised Wehan for his awareness on-and-off the ball which makes life easy on a player who wants to get in behind the defense, “I don’t really need to tell the guy anything. He just kind of has it. If I make a certain movement he’s moving the other way.”
“With him, for insistence in the game where we have a throw in and I’m closer to the side, if I look over Chris is already in my position ready to do my job,” Moreno said.
Moreno wasn’t coming off a blistering season prior to joining United. As a member of MLS Chicago Fire he only made seven appearances. The 25-year-old from New Jersey already knows how tough the professional road can be. Moreno forged his senior season in high school to join the New York Red Bulls academy in 2009. He would eventually make his MLS debut in 2013 with two first team appearances. After a three year stint in Mexico playing in the first and second division Moreno found his way back to New York and Red Bulls II in 2018.
When asked if this season was about proving something to himself or everyone else, Moreno looked inward.
“I think it was more for myself. I’m not really the type of guy that bothers what other people think of me,” he said adding, “I’ve had the taste of being there with first teams, just hasn’t gone the way I wanted.”
That doesn’t mean Moreno looks at this chance as a step backward. It’s a chance to improve his play on a team that has high expectations in regards to the postseason.
Moreno put the pressure back on himself saying, “I think I can do more. Even now with New Mexico I could give so much more. That’s what I try to do every game, ‘how can I improve from the last game’ is what I’ve tried to do myself.”
A Booming Voice
Whether it’s the thump of a strike during an MMA match, the jawing back and fourth on a basketball court or the voice of a coach from the sidelines, sports viewing has changed with empty stadiums. USL Championship broadcasts do not have the technology available to add in crowd noise which has somewhat normalized television viewing for professional sports.
When watching a United match in an empty or vary sparsely filled stadium there is one voice that stands out above the rest and it is that of the head man, Troy Lesesne.
“It’s nice having that voice in behind because we know exactly what he wants from us at that specific point in time,” Najem said when asked about Lesesne’s in game coaching. “We adjusted something halfway through and it was nice to have him there and me reiterating that message on.”
From positioning to when to close down space and attack, Lesesne can be heard going strong for 90-plus minuets.
“I’m a high energy guy when it comes to being passionate about coaching and making sure that we’re fighting for, trying to play the way we want to play and get a result,” Lesesne said of his mindset in the coaching box.
Lesesne made sure to mention that it isn’t a one way street. It’s important for players to relay what they are seeing and dealing with to make sure the tactics and team principles stay on track.
Moreno wasn’t shy when saying the coaches do get on him and it’s needed when it comes to getting back on defense.
“For me personally it’s tracking back…I don’t really check my back when I’m running backwards, so when I get a call, not even from Troy, but from Gav (Gavin Glinton), Zach (Prince) to track back, it’s like another pair of eyes. It does help.”
For Lesesne, he hopes it’s the right kind of ‘yelling’; a chance to enforce what the players know, but also give them a boost.
“Lets be honest, I think these guys need it a little bit right now. I think that’s the beauty of playing in front of, I hope, a thousand New Mexican fans this weekend. We need it at this stage. We need a little bit more energy whether that comes from me or the fans,” he said addressing the teams 13th straight game on the road.
Again, he hopes it all has a purpose, “You can’t just be screaming to scream. You sound like an idiot. Which I’ve done that too in the past.”
One of the things that really stands out when watching soccer is how a team chooses to defend set-pieces, also known as marking-up. You’ll see man-to-man or a zone which is known as zonal marking. New Mexico has used zonal marking this season and it has led to plenty of heart stopping moments. Lesesne was quick to mention that the team has only given up two goals from corner kicks this season.
“We’re not the tallest team. So, I think zonal marking for us gives us a little bit harder of a line. You’ve got to be really, really precise on the serve and the finish in order to beat us,” he said as he continued to describe their corner defense.
“Even within the goals we’ve given up, I think those are controllable situations that we just didn’t win our individual battle. Individual battles can be won in the zonal system as well. So, that’s corner kick 101 setup for New Mexico United in 2020.”
New Mexico has conceded 15 goals through 12 games played this season with four clean sheets.
Western Conference Goals Conceded