SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A sensational volley from Thomas Enevoldsen helped No. 7 seed Sacramento Republic FC end its streak of three consecutive home playoff losses with a 2-1 comeback victory over No. 10 seed New Mexico United in the Western Conference Play-In Round on Wednesday night at Papa Murphy’s Park.
Republic FC advances to face No. 2 seed Reno 1868 FC on Saturday night at Greater Nevada Field in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The visitors got off to a dream start straight from the opening kickoff as Devon Sandoval needed just 13 seconds to put New Mexico into the lead and write himself into the league’s record book with the fastest goal in USL Championship Playoffs history.
The center forward flicked Rashid Tetteh’s long ball to Santi Moar on the left wing and then got into the box to produce a first-time shot to the Spaniard’s cutback, which found its way into the back of the net courtesy of a miscued clearance attempt from Sacramento defender Mitchell Taintor.
New Mexico nearly doubled its advantage in the 12th minute when Manny Padilla’s right-wing cross reached David Estrada at the back post, but the midfielder saw his header clawed away from goal by Republic FC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and Sandoval was shielded away from the rebound by the Sacramento defense.
After the shock of the early goal, the hosts started to grow back into the contest and nearly found their equalizer in the 18th minute when Villyan Bijev played Cameron Iwasa in behind the New Mexico defense, but the forward’s left-footed effort was well saved by NMU goalkeeper Cody Mizell.
Bijev played another piercing pass from the left wing in the 35th minute to set up a hard-charging Enevoldsen, who took a touch to evade a pair of defenders and get into the box but saw his right-footed shot agonizingly pushed onto the post by Mizell.
Sacramento Republic FC's Villyan Bijev and New Mexico United's Manny Padilla fight for possession. | Photo courtesy Sara Molina / Sacramento Republic FC
The game of inches turned in favor of the hosts on the stroke of halftime when Drew Skundrich won a header in the center of the box and Keven Aleman reacted quickest to the loose ball, putting a right-footed shot on frame from close range that hit Mizell and was ruled to have crossed the goal line before the netminder could claw the ball back into play.
Republic FC nearly took advantage of a New Mexico turnover 10 minutes after halftime as it countered quickly with Enevoldsen playing a right-wing cutback to Aleman, who struck a sweet left-footed shot from the edge of the box that rattled the crossbar behind Mizell and bounced out of play to deny the midfielder his second goal of the night.
The hosts had to wait until the 82nd minute but their second goal finally came, as Sam Werner picked his head up on the left side of midfield and played a sumptuous cross-field ball to Enevoldsen at the back post for the Dane to volley home first time through the legs of Mizell.
New Mexico threw everyone forward in the final 10 minutes in search of an equalizer, but Shuttleworth was able to collect a header from substitute Daniel Bruce and Chris Wehan missed everyone with his delivery from a stoppage-time free kick as the hosts were able to hold on and draw the curtain on the expansion side’s inaugural campaign.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Keven Aleman, Sacramento Republic FC – Aleman scored his side’s opening goal, won 11 of 14 duels, completed 7 of 7 dribbles and made 14 recoveries in a standout performance to lead Sacramento to its first home postseason win since 2014.