It’s not often that an official takes center stage during a soccer match, but that was the case in the New Mexico United matchup against El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday night at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque. The game ended in a 0-0 draw after 37 fouls were issued throughout the game to each team, with 23 going to United.
Three yellow cards were also shown in the match — two for El Paso and one for New Mexico midfielder Andrew Tinari; United midfielder Juan Pablo Guzmán received a red card after the second half, putting the team down a player. Of the crowd of 10,303 fans at the game, many repeatedly voiced their displeasure with the officiating.
As far as the play on the field went, El Paso controlled the majority of possession, holding the ball 57% of the time in the half, according to ESPN stats.
There were a few breakout chances for New Mexico that came off the rush, but Locomotive was quick to shut down any scoring chance. New Mexico was able to get behind the defense on one occasion but United forward Ilija Ilic fired over the crossbar and sent the ball sailing into the crowd instead.
At the end of the half, the feeling in the stadium was tense. While referee Greg Dopka handed out four fouls to El Paso in the first half, New Mexico received 16.
Entering the second half still at a 0-0 draw, emotions were running high both on and off the field.
Both teams came out in the second half determined to break the scoreless tie, but play was largely kept at midfield, with scoring opportunities far and few between. The seven additional fouls called against New Mexico in the second half kept the stadium tense.
When Guzmán was issued a red card by Dopka in the 66th minute, which took United down a man for the remainder of the match, fans chanted in unison, “Ref, you suck.”
Outside of the ire toward the referee, fans were also upset with the El Paso players and the injuries they sustained in the second half. On many occasions, Locomotive players fell on the turf and remained there for up to 30 seconds, prompting a stop in play while also halting any momentum New Mexico was beginning to generate.
On the pitch, United was able to press their attack early in the second half, with two scoring chances coming in the 54th and 63rd minutes. The first opportunity, set up by a corner kick, landed in El Paso goalie Logan Ketterer’s arms. The second chance also came off a set play design and left Josh Suggs with a chance to put United on the board, but his shot rang off the near post.
The remaining time in the match saw both squads continue to struggle for scoring chances, with the defenses for both teams preventing any scoring action.
In the end, New Mexico had one last chance to score and secure three winning points with a free kick in the dying seconds of stoppage time, but United forward Brian Brown’s attempt flew over the right corner of the net, ending the game on a draw.
In the post-match press conference, head coach Troy Lesesne commended his team’s composure and competitive attitude prior to and after the red card was issued. Lesesne also said United probably would have won if they weren’t down a player in the second half.
The team now looks to regroup and focus their attention on an upcoming road contest against Tacoma Defiance on Aug. 1. The road has become an unkind place to United as of late, as the club has lost their last four road matches.
When asked how the team will spend the upcoming week off, Lesesne was quick to answer that the club will immediately be moving on to Tacoma.
“We don’t have a week off, we’ve got one day off and then we’re Tacoma, Tacoma, Tacoma,” Lesesne said.
Gino Gutierrez is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @GGutierrez48