Wednesday night was a frustrating one for New Mexico United's Austin Yearwood (center) and his teammates as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Tacoma Defiance at Isotopes Park. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ever have a dream where everything seems real and nothing makes sense?
You could forgive the players, coaches and fans of New Mexico United for waking up on Thursday morning with such a feeling.
Despite recording a Championship season-high 36 shots and 15 shots on goal on Wednesday night at Isotopes Park, all the hosts had to show was a 1-1 draw with Tacoma Defiance that left their chances at a place in the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs in the hands of others.
The night was encapsulated late in the six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half. Santi Moar cleverly created space to flick in a cross from the left that picked out Devon Sandoval at the back post. Everyone rose that little bit higher in the stands or on their couches as it seemed the chance that would finally break the deadlock had arrived.
Defiance goalkeeper and former U.S. U-20 international Trey Muse brilliantly kept that effort out, then recovered to deny Sandoval’s rebound attempt, the assistant referee well positioned to determine whether the entire ball had crossed the line. Sam Hamilton was next to try, but Muse flailed a punch to send the ball back in his direction before making a fourth save in the span of 10 seconds as he tipped Hamilton’s header over the crossbar.
Just over a minute later, the final whistle brought the breathless finale to a riveting contest to a close.
“It’s hard to think of anything else that could’ve been done, besides the ball passing that line and going to the back of the net,” said New Mexico defender Austin Yearwood, himself in the middle of the melee in the penalty area. “Everyone’s effort was there, putting all of their effort into it. It was just one of those nights where we just didn’t see the ball cross the line.”
In a season where United has seen a fair share of incredible moments go its way, the club’s recent luck has taken a turn for the worse at the worst possible time. From Phoenix Rising FC’s Joey Calistri’s 90th-minute equalizer on September 28 at the same end of Isotopes Park that Muse kept NMU from victory on Wednesday, to Tulsa Roughnecks FC’s stoppage-time winner this past Saturday, United doesn’t need to be reminded of how late-game fortune has been against it of late.
Those three dropped points are looming even larger now as they stand as the difference between United controlling its playoff destiny on Saturday night when it hosts Las Vegas Lights FC in its regular-season finale and it now needing help from either El Paso Locomotive FC or Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC to take a playoff place.
Should either Locomotive FC – which visits the ninth-place LA Galaxy II in its regular-season finale on Saturday – or the Switchbacks – who visit 10th-place San Antonio FC, also on Saturday night – earn a result, New Mexico will be in with a win.
If Los Dos and SAFC both take victory, the curtain comes down on what has been a remarkable inaugural season for Head Coach Troy Lesesne and his squad.
Lesesne, as you’d expect, is a believer that things will come good for his side.
“We’ll be in training early tomorrow, and guys who played tonight need to get ready,” said Lesesne. “Those who didn’t get minutes tonight are champing at the bit, they’re disappointed that they didn’t get to play tonight. You’ve seen how crazy the Western Conference is. If we take care of business against Las Vegas, I think we can see things going our way.”
It certainly would be something if Locomotive FC ends up being the side that throws New Mexico a postseason lifeline. The rivalry between the two first-year clubs has been a strong one, and El Paso fans are enjoying seeing their counterparts in Albuquerque wait nervously after Locomotive FC booked its playoff ticket on Tuesday night.
With New Mexico’s game kicking off an hour after San Antonio’s and half-an-hour before the Galaxy II’s on Saturday night, the scene at Isotopes Park could see fans checking phones anxiously while NMU’s game progresses in front of them. If the side needs a favor from El Paso, expect plenty of screens to be turned to ESPN+ to see the end of Locomotive FC’s game with the Galaxy II after the final whistle goes at Isotopes Park.
New Mexico United midfielder Juan Pablo Guzman reflects on his side's 1-1 draw with Tacoma Defiance on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
But for that to even be in play, United’s players know they must take care of business against Lights FC first, something they believe they’ll be ready to do.
“I think everybody will be okay,” said NMU midfielder Saalih Muhammad. “We have a lot of older guys who have been doing this for a while and have been in playoff battles before, have been professional long enough to understand what approach they need to take going into Saturday’s match.”