In a 3-1 defeat that stayed close for most of the match, New Mexico United lost to Reno 1868 FC at Isotopes Park on Friday, Sept. 20.
As a result of the defeat, United dropped to eighth in the USL Championship Western Conference standings, while Reno stayed in second and clinched a playoff berth.
Even as the Friday night match attracted only 10,518 supporters — a small crowd for New Mexico in their inaugural season — the stadium began full of excitement. Because the sound system during the singing of the national was unresponsive, rendering the singer inaudible, the home crowd filled in with their own rendition and the game began.
The excitement of the game began in the seventh minute as New Mexico forward Santi Moar controlled a pass into the box from UNM alum Devon Sandoval and slotted it into the close corner for a goal.
From then on United patiently moved the ball around, searching for weaknesses in Reno’s defense, but the chances that did come to the Reno goal weren’t converted.
After several Cody Mizell saves throughout the first half, Reno’s Corey Hertzog was able to laser a shot into the net above Mizell’s extended hand in the 45th minute.
Coming out of the break without any lineup changes, United kept up the pressure on Reno’s half of the field, including a Chris Wehan score called back by a controversial offsides call.
As their attempts to score continued to be stymied, United made mistakes that Reno was able to capitalize on. An intercepted bad pass in the defensive half of the field ended with a save from Mizell. From the corner on the very next play in the 54th minute, captain Brent Richards drove to the ball and with a light header, bounced it into the far side of the net to make Reno’s advantage 2-1.
Immediately afterwards in the 55th minute, a pass from Lindo Mfeka split the defense wide open for Hertzog to drive another one past Mizell and put Reno up 3-1.
Soon after in the 58th minute, United substituted on Kevaughn Frater for David Estrada, a move designed to put more pressure on the Reno defense and get back into the match. Frater began creating and assisting on chances as soon as he was put on, but he and his teammates were still unable to find the back of the net.
United’s best chances came after the 80th minute, when Kevin Partida of Reno was sent off after his second yellow card. New Mexico was able to keep continuous pressure on Reno after they went down to 10 men but were still unable to convert their chances and the game ended with a 3-1 scoreline.
The loss knocked NMU from the sixth to the eighth seed position in the West as the USL Championship gears up for the playoffs. Although the lost opportunity to achieve points was a disappointment to some fans, the team’s leadership held a press conference following Friday’s game to offer some assurance that the loss was far from devastating to the club’s playoff chances.
There are significant challenges the club faces in order to secure chances in the playoffs. At the postmatch press conference, head coach and technical director Troy Lesesne fielded questions about the players’ performance, injury reports and play-by-play analysis. On many people’s minds was the impending game against Phoenix Rising FC, which has locked up the pole position in the West.
“I know when you lose a match like that it doesn’t feel great, but we’re going to look at the game to review it,” Lesesne said. “I think there’s a lot that’s positive to take out of it. If you can’t get up for next week, then you’ve got a lot bigger problems.”
The match against Phoenix will take place on Saturday, Sept. 28th at Isotopes Park at 7:30 p.m.
Colin Peña is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @penyacolin
Dan Goodwin is a freelance news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @dg_5353