New Mexico United notched a huge win in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup over a Major League Soccer opponent on Wednesday, but was unable to carry that momentum onto the pitch against Las Vegas Lights FC.
United bested the Colorado Rapids after scoring in extra time to tie the match and eventually won on penalty kicks. They had no such luck on Saturday evening.
Las Vegas won in a one-sided affair, as New Mexico was unable to keep pace with the Lights after the scoring began.
Both of the squads had decent scoring chances in the early going, but neither was able to seal the deal and pierce the opposing net.
United missed a golden opportunity in the 28th minute when Las Vegas' goalkeeper left the net in an attempt to snag a loose ball from the air. He was unsuccessful and the goal was left unprotected as the ball found Devon Sandoval, whose shot attempt just missed finding the open net — bouncing off the top post.
Minutes later, it was the Lights FC who finally broke through as Javan Torre scorched a shot from well outside the box. He found the upper right corner and removed his jersey in celebration after notching the opening goal of the match in the 32rd minute.
Las Vegas midfielder Cristhian Hernandez cashed in shortly thereafter when he was awarded a penalty kick after being taken down in the box. United keeper Cody Mizell laid out and batted down the initial shot, but Hernandez collected the rebound and finished the job for a 2-0 lead that held heading into the half.
Lights FC remained on the offensive, taking a commanding 3-0 lead just moments into the second 45-minute period.
Tabort Etaka Preston worked his way downfield and navigated his way toward the middle of pitch as he created separation and uncorked a laser just 1:22 into the half. Mizell had no play on the shot as he saw the shot sail past him, giving Las Vegas a three-goal cushion.
That lead was plenty for Lights FC, though New Mexico was able to avoid a shutout late in the match when Danny Estrada high-pointed the ball and sent home a header off a corner kick in the 88th minute.
The goal cut the lead to 3-1, but didn't leave United much time to work with for a comeback attempt. Lights FC closed the door on that possibility anyway as Vegas was able to manage two more goals — one in stoppage time — to make the final score 5-1.
It marked the second straight loss for New Mexico United in USL play, dropping the team from the top spot in the Western Conference standings. United sits in third place, still stuck on 25 points, while Phoenix Rising FC and El Paso Locomotive FC both improved to 7-2-5 on the year, though Phoenix is tops in the conference due to goal differential.
United has been outscored 8-1 against its two most recent USL opponents.
New Mexico United will remain on the road and head to Dallas to take on FC Dallas on Wednesday in U.S. Open Cup action. The next opponent on the USL schedule will be a road matchup against LA Galaxy 2 on Saturday, June 22 at 8 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler