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THE MORNING TEA – New Mexico Players, Fans Eager for ‘Home’ Contest

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 09/19/20, 7:30AM EDT

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USL’s Papadakis outlines expansion strategy; Hounds’ USLBPA members talk progress, next steps

Three weekends until the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs begin, and the list of 16 teams that will be part of the field is quickly getting filled. To start today, we look at one of them, which under unique circumstances will get a home crowd for the first time this season. Here’s your Morning Tea for Saturday.

 

THE BIG STORY

If you were planning on driving on I-25 today between Albuquerque, N.M. and Colorado Springs, Colo., you might end up seeing something slightly extraordinary.

That’s because first travelling north toward Colorado Springs this morning, and then back to Albuquerque tonight, a caravan of up to 1,000 New Mexico United will be making the trip to and from Weidner Field for maybe the most unique game of the 2020 USL Championship season.

United will be the home team on Saturday night when it faces Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field in what will be the club’s only official home game of the 2020 regular season. Due to public health orders implemented by the state of New Mexico, the club has been the visitor for each of its 12 games so far this season.

In terms of venue, that won’t change today, but United’s players can’t wait to see a crowd of fans bringing the flags, banners and passion that was present throughout New Mexico’s inaugural season in the stands at Weidner Field.

“We haven’t been able to play in front of our fans so far,” United defender David Najem said during the club’s conference call on Zoom this week. “Just getting a little taste of that is going to be so nice. It’ll be fun for us. It’s been such a long time coming.”

Despite its travels, United’s place in the 2020 Championship Playoffs was confirmed on Wednesday night as Real Monarchs SLC fell to the Portland Timbers 2 at Zions Bank Stadium. That means the party might start early for The Curse and the rest of the United fans making the trip, who began the week anticipating that this game could be the win that sealed New Mexico’s playoff place.

But there’s still a lot riding on Saturday’s contest. With seeding in Group C still on a knife-edge, United needs all three points to keep up the pressure on El Paso Locomotive FC, which sits a point ahead of New Mexico with four games each left to play.

And that’s where the presence of United’s fans might help most on Saturday. The mental boost the side is expecting to receive at a key moment of the season is something everyone in the camp is looking forward to.

“It always matters, but especially now with the fans there, it might give us a little extra boost,” said United attacking midfielder Amando Moreno. “But I think everyone has it clear that we have to give 100 percent.”

“That’s the beauty of playing in front of, I hope, 1,000 fans,” added Head Coach Troy Lesesne. “It’s been a long season, and we need a little more energy right now.”

With a showdown against Locomotive FC looming next weekend, United’s caravan of fans is ready for what promises to be a special day in an extraordinary season.

 

THIS WEEKEND'S ACTION

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19


New Mexico United vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

(7-3-2)
Group C

5:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Weidner Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NM Wins 49% | Draw 24% | COS Wins 27%
(1-6-5)
Group C
The Gist: While technically being played at Weidner Field, Saturday afternoon marks New Mexico United’s “Home Opener”, with up to 1,000 United fans set to be in attendance after an agreement was made to allow the side to host the game at its Group C rival’s home field. It’s certainly been somewhat of a home away from home in New Mexico’s travels this season, with the side having gone 2-0-1 so far against the Switchbacks this year. With Colorado Springs having been eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday night after its defeat to El Paso Locomotive FC, there is only pride left to play for, but New Mexico needs all three points to keep itself firmly in the picture for first place as it now sits a point behind El Paso with four games remaining.
Discipline: None

Loudoun United FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

(1-8-3)
Group F

6:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Segra Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LDN Wins 10% | Draw 18% | PIT Wins 72%
(9-3-1)
Group F
The Gist: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC will continue its pursuit of the best record in the Eastern Conference when it visits Loudoun United FC, which was eliminated from playoff contention this past Wednesday night. Loudoun fell 4-0 to the Philadelphia Union II to drop to fifth place in Group F, and now will have to contend with the Hounds, who are coming off a 5-0 win against Hartford Athletic in their last outing. With three games to go, Pittsburgh has the highest available points total in the Eastern Conference of 37pts, meaning should it win out it would finish with the best record in the East for a second consecutive season, and homefield advantage in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Discipline: None

North Carolina FC vs. Charlotte Independence

(4-6-1)
Group G

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: NC Wins 41% | Draw 25% | CLT Wins 34%
(6-3-3)
Group G
The Gist: The Charlotte Independence can take another big step toward the postseason, and also remain in contention for a first-place finish in Group G if it can replicate its home success this season as it visits in-state rival North Carolina FC. Separated by eight points in the group, this is a must-win for NCFC as it looks to keep its chances of reaching the playoffs alive. North Carolina produced the goods with its back against the wall last time out as it rallied to a 3-2 victory against Memphis 901 FC last Sunday, but now needs another win to cut the gap to the second-placed Independence. Charlotte is coming off a big win of its own last Saturday night as Dane Kelly scored twice in a 3-1 win on the road against group leader Birmingham Legion FC. Now with 10 goals this season, Kelly has helped lead a resurgence this season that has Charlotte looking at its first postseason trip since 2017.
Discipline: Charlotte – Joel Johnson (Suspended)

Louisville City FC vs. Memphis 901 FC

(8-3-2)
Group E

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: LOU Wins 68% | Draw 20% | MEM Wins 16%
(2-6-4)
Group G
The Gist: Louisville City FC will try to extend its lead at the top of Group E after its midweek win and close in on its sixth consecutive trip to the postseason as it plays host to a Memphis 901 FC side that will be under new sideline management as it visits Lynn Family Stadium. Memphis installed Ben Pirmann as its Interim Head Coach on Tuesday after parting ways with the club’s first Head Coach Tim Mulqueen, and with the side eliminated from playoff contention it will look to put in a strong display as it closes out its second year. LouCity, though, is flying on an eight-game undefeated streak that saw it defeat Indy Eleven on Wednesday night behind goals from Cameron Lancaster and Corben Bone. With a chance to make its lead seven points over Indy for first place, LouCity will be primed to perform in front of its home fans.
Discipline: None

Saint Louis FC vs. Sporting Kansas City II

(5-4-3)
Group E

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: West Community Stadium

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: STL Wins 59% | Draw 23% | SKC Wins 18%
(4-7-1)
Group E
The Gist: Saint Louis FC has the chance to move within a point of second-placed Indy Eleven if it can take all three points against Sporting Kansas City II as the race for the playoffs in Group E continues at West Community Stadium. STLFC is coming off a 3-0 defeat to Louisville City FC last Saturday night, but its playoff hopes were lifted as LouCity then proceeded to defeat Indy Eleven on Wednesday night. With a game in hand on the Boys in Blue, Saint Louis has to find a way past SKC II, which it has gone 2-0-1 against so far at home this season. Sporting also fell in its last outing, a 2-1 loss on the road to Indy on September 9, and needs victory to keep its chances of reaching the playoffs alive, but with forward Wilson Harris and others the visitors have been dangerous previously, and only fell 3-2 when these teams last met on September 4.
Discipline: None

San Antonio FC vs. OKC Energy FC

(9-1-3)
Group D

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Toyota Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SA Wins 66% | Draw 20% | OKC Wins 13%
(1-5-6)
Group D
The Gist: Having claimed Group D on Wednesday night with its victory against Austin Bold FC, San Antonio will continue its pursuit of the best record in the Western Conference as it takes on an OKC Energy FC side that needs all three points to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. With three games to go, San Antonio can top out at 39 points, a mark that is second to only Reno 1868 FC in the West. Finding a way past Energy FC has proving a more manageable task this season for SAFC, which has taken victory in their prior two meetings, but Energy FC is still alive in the playoff race after earning a 1-1 draw with FC Tulsa last weekend on a last-minute goal by Omar Gordon. With a seven-point gap to make up in its final four games victory is essential for the visitors, which could make for a very entertaining contest.
Discipline: OKC - Jose Hernandez (Suspended)

El Paso Locomotive FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC

(7-2-3)
Group C

9:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Southwest University Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: ELP Wins 50% | Draw 26% | SLC Wins 24%
(3-8-1)
Group C
The Gist: Having clinched a playoff place on Wednesday night, El Paso Locomotive FC will try to maintain its hold on first place in Group C as it hosts Real Monarchs SLC, which was officially eliminated from playoff contention after its midweek defeat. The Monarchs’ disappointing title defense came to an official close as it conceded twice in the second half to lose 2-1 at home to the Portland Timbers 2 on Wednesday night. The result confirmed Locomotive FC’s playoff place, with El Paso having taken a 2-1 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC earlier in the night. Locomotive FC is now on a club-best four-game league winning streak as it hosts the Monarchs, and with a one-point edge on New Mexico United with four games remaining will be aiming for another win ahead of the meeting between El Paso and New Mexico next weekend.
Discipline: None

Phoenix Rising FC vs. San Diego Loyal SC

(8-2-2)
Group B

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Casino Arizona Field

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: PHX Wins 67% | Draw 20% | SD Wins 12%
(5-4-4)
Group B
The Gist: Phoenix Rising FC could clinch a playoff place with a win on Saturday night, but it will face a potential test from San Diego Loyal SC as the visitors look to keep their playoff hopes alive after a recent four-game undefeated streak to remain alive in the postseason race. San Diego took a 2-0 victory against Orange County SC last Sunday night to add to a win against the LA Galaxy II in its prior outing and appears to be finding its form just in time. Attacking arrivals including LAFC loanee Alejandro Guido, Columbus Crew SC loanee Miguel Berry, and former U.S. Men’s National Team forward Rubio Rubin have added some punch to a solid defensive side. Phoenix took a 2-0 win when the teams last met in August when Junior Flemmings and Darnell King both found the net, however, and will be hoping for a similar result this time around as it looks to keep the battle for second place at arm’s length.
Discipline: None

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20


Philadelphia Union II vs. Hartford Athletic

(2-7-2)
Group F

5:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Subaru Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: PHI Wins 29% | Draw 23% | HFD Wins 48%
(7-3-1)
Group F
The Gist: Hartford Athletic will get its first chance at clinching a playoff place as it visits the Philadelphia Union II, with both sides coming off good midweek victories as they meet at Subaru Park. Hartford moved within three points of clinching its first trip to the playoffs on Wednesday night as it took a 3-1 victory against the New York Red Bulls II to open up a 10-point lead over the rest of the group in second place. With five games remaining, Hartford could still catch Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC for first place, but it could get a good test from the Union II, who are coming off a 4-0 win against Loudoun United FC on Wednesday to remain alive in the postseason race.
Discipline: None

Charleston Battery vs. Miami FC

(7-2-3)
Group H

6:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Patriots Point Soccer Complex

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: CHS Wins 49% | Draw 26% | MIA Wins 26%
(2-6-3)
Group H
The Gist: The Charleston Battery need just a point to clinch a 10th consecutive trip to the playoffs, but will be looking for victory as it tries to keep pace in the race for first place in Group H when it hosts Miami FC. The Battery are six points back of the Tampa Bay Rowdies but hold two games in hand, leaving open the chance for Charleston to pull level on points ahead of a meeting between the two clubs on the final weekend of the regular season at Al Lang Stadium. The Battery will look to halve that gap against Miami, which suffered a 4-0 defeat on Wednesday night to Birmingham Legion FC at Riccardo Silva Stadium that pushed it to the brink of elimination from playoff contention. A better performance will be expected of the visitors, who earned a 1-1 draw when they last faced Charleston earlier this month.
Discipline: None

Portland Timbers 2 vs. Reno 1868 FC

(2-10-0)
Group A

9:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Providence Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: POR Wins 22% | Draw 19% | RNO Wins 59%
(9-2-1)
Group A
The Gist: Reno 1868 FC will try to maintain its lead at the top of Group A as it visits a Portland Timbers 2 side that has found its best form of the season in its last two outings. T2 rallied to take its second consecutive victory on Wednesday night as it defeated Real Monarchs SLC, with Marcus Epps among the goalscorers with an outstanding individual finish. Reno has held the upper hand on Portland so far this season, though, and after clinching a playoff place on Thursday night with a 3-2 win against Tacoma Defiance still has a chance to finish with the best record in the Western Conference. Victory in Portland would ensure another step toward that goal, and that its lead over Sacramento Republic FC will remain at minimum at three points at the end of the week.
Discipline: None

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Tacoma Defiance

(7-1-4)
Group A

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Papa Murphy’s Park

FiveThirtyEight.com Predictor: SAC Wins 65% | Draw 21% | TAC Wins 15%
(2-8-1)
Group A
The Gist: Sacramento Republic FC will try to keep pace with Group A leader Reno 1868 FC as it hosts Tacoma Defiance aiming to return to the win column after letting a victory slip away late last time out. Republic FC looked set to take its third win against Reno this season last Saturday night until a stoppage-time equalizer by 1868 FC’s Aidan Apodaca resulted in a 3-3 draw. That result, and Reno’s victory against the Defiance on Thursday night, means Sacramento is now three points back with four games to go, including one final meeting between the two postseason participants on September 26. Victory for Sacramento will at least keep it in touch of its rival, but the Defiance have put in some solid displays against Sacramento previously this season – including a 3-3 draw between the sides on July 13 – and will be hoping to pick up a positive result on the road.
Discipline: None
 

THE SOCIAL CIRCLE

 

THE USL LOWDOWN

- Speaking with The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter, United Soccer League’s Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis outlined the expansion process the league has implemented to bring aboard strong clubs and organizations, revealing that the organization is considering more than 40 markets to join the Championship and League One in future years.

- As more prominent leagues have made headlines for their players taking public stands against racial injustice and police brutality, the USL Championship has seen many of its teams, including Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, do the same. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Craig Meyer spoke with Hounds players Ryan James and Skylar Thomas, Head Coach Bob Lilley and USL VP of Communications & Public Relations Ryan Madden about what’s happened so far, and what the next steps might be as the league and its teams engage in action to produce social change.

- Orange County SC needed victory on Friday night to boost its playoff chances, and thanks to Darwin Jones it managed a 1-0 win against Las Vegas Lights FC in its home finale for the regular season. Angels on Parade’s Alicia Rodriguez has the details, which included 15-year-old Francis Jacobs making his professional debut.

- On an eight-game undefeated streak, Louisville City FC could clinch its sixth consecutive playoff berth on Saturday night when it hosts Memphis 901 FC. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Saxon looks ahead to the contest, which could also see LouCity move seven points clear at the top of the Group E standings.

- It’s a simple equation for Saint Louis FC. After last week’s disappointing loss against Louisville City FC, all three points are required against Sporting Kansas City II on Saturday night. “We’re in a difficult spot, no question,” Head Coach Steve Trittschuh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Lyons. “But we know what needs to be done – we need wins – and it has to start on Saturday.”

- Alan Koch has gone back to one of his former homes to bring in a potentially exciting prospect for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, with former Simon Fraser University forward Mamadi Camara now in his first professional season. “I can bring a lot of energy on the field, both out of possession and in possession,” Camara told the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Vinny Benedetto. “I love to go forward and create some attacks. I just think I’m really dangerous in the final third, because I’m a big guy.”

- It was a long time coming, but Eder Borelli made his debut for El Paso Locomotive FC on Wednesday night after coming to the club on loan from FC Juarez earlier this year. Borelli told ESPN El Paso that he had been impressed by the quality of the league, especially given his experience previously in Liga MX.

- Reno 1868 FC has a three-point lead at the top of Group A in the Championship, and has clinched a fourth consecutive playoff berth. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Duke Ritenhouse looked at what’s next for 1868 FC as it pursues both victory in its group, and potentially homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

- Sacramento Republic FC launched voting this week for the Kickstart program that is designed to assist Black-owned small businesses in the Sacramento area facing economic challenges through the pandemic. Sacramento Bee reporter Cameron Salerno has more details, as well as a look at Republic FC’s road ahead now that its seventh consecutive playoff place has been claimed.

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