ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A battle between the top two teams in the Western Conference lived up to its billing on Friday night as Kevaughn Frater's hat trick helped New Mexico United salvage a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers 2 at Isotopes Park as Eryk Williamson scored twice for the visitors. Here are three takeaways from the contest.
FRATER STOPS THE BLEEDING: Previously this season – including in its first two home games of the year – New Mexico United has come out of the gates strong but dropped points late in matches. On Friday night it looked like it was going to be a similar story as the hosts jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the second half thanks to a five-minute brace from Kevaughn Frater, but quickly gave it away. T2 responded with a pair of goals in a three-minute span and Eryk Williamson's 77th-minute penalty looked like it was going to send NMU to its first home loss of the season. However, Frater came up clutch in the 93rd minute with an unstoppable left-footed volley to cap off the second hat trick in club history and earn his side a point that will feel like a win.
LEADING MAN: The Timbers 2 now sit atop the Western Conference standings and arguably no-one has played a bigger role in the team's success so far this season than attacking midfielder Eryk Williamson. The 21-year-old entered Friday night's contest with a league-leading five assists, but against New Mexico, Williamson showed that he can score goals as well as he can set them up. Williamson peppered Cody Mizell's goal with a pair of shots in the 65th minute and finally broke through a minute later, heading home from Marco Farfan’s corner kick into the bottom-right corner. Williamson then kept his cool from the penalty spot to put his side in the lead, sending Mizell the wrong way with 13 minutes remaining. While he will be disappointed to settle for a draw, Williamson put on another stellar performance as he looks to hold down his spot on Jason Kreis' U.S. U-23 squad as it prepares for qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
HOME STATEMENT: One of the most important things for expansion sides in their inaugural season is to quickly turn their home venue into a fortress that spurs the team to get results. New Mexico has certainly done that and more as a club-record crowd of 12,921 fans packed into Isotopes Park on Friday night to cheer on their team in the first ever meeting between NMU and T2. With two wins and two draws from its opening four home matches - three of which saw more than 12,000 fans in attendance - New Mexico is well on its way to creating one of the strongest home-field advantages in the Championship. Couple that with the club's strong away form early this season and it would seem that the club's start near the top of the Western Conference standings is looking pretty sustainable.