skip navigation

Why Talen Maples’ penalty-kick winner for New Mexico United proved a perfect redemption

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 06/23/24, 10:50AM EDT


Following spot kick debacle in Memphis, center back was the coolest head in lifting Western leader to late victory

New Mexico United's Talen Maples scored the decisive penalty kick in the second minute of second-half stoppage time to lift the side to a 1-0 win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Isotopes Park. | Photo courtesy Eric Lovato / New Mexico United

In terms of a redemption narrative, you could hardly have written a script more incredible for New Mexico United’s Talen Maples.

At the center of one of the most bizarre penalty kicks you’ll ever see seven days earlier as United fell on the road against Memphis 901 FC, the center back was entrusted with a spot kick in second-half stoppage time on Saturday night that had the potential to both preserve New Mexico’s perfect record at Isotopes Park this season, and extend the club’s lead at the top of the USL Championship’s Western Conference standings.

In a situation where some teammates had come up short previously this season, the 25-year-old was the coolest head in the building.

His low shot to the bottom-right corner as Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC goalkeeper Christian Herrera went the opposite way earned the hosts a 1-0 victory after a tension-filled meeting before 10,176 fans.

“I'm so proud of him,” said New Mexico Head Coach Eric Quill. “To step up in a moment where after last week, he could have doubted himself. But he steps up in a crucial time and just buries it. I’m just ecstatic for him, because this guy’s mental fortitude is something special.”

Penalty kicks have been the nagging Achilles’ heel for United so far this season. The side had been awarded five previously this regular season – second to only Indy Eleven in the Championship – but had converted only once. In a 1-0 defeat to Monterey Bay F.C. on June 2, the side missed twice in the closing stages, a missed opportunity to maintain the momentum build in a perfect month of May across all competitions.

That was in the back of everyone’s mind at the Lab when Mukwelle Akale was brought down by Colorado Springs’ Duke Lacroix as the game ticked into stoppage time. After discussion, it fell to Maples to take his first spot kick of the season.

“I feel like after the game in Monterey, there [were some] questions, but just honestly it was up for takes,” said Maples. “I take penalties after practice just to make sure that I’m ready no matter what, if my number is called. And, I think that it was mainly a players’ decision. Like, everybody just kind of trusted me with it and let me kind of do what I wanted to do, and do what I needed to do. And I’m happy that they trust me to take a pen.”

Maples’ penalty kick provided the victory, but New Mexico preserved its perfect record – now six wins out of six – against the Switchbacks at Isotopes Park all-time in large part due to the other character in the penalty kick debacle in Memphis.

Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis produced a five-save shutout, including a crucial 15th-minute stop on Ronaldo Damus as the Haitian international split the center back pairing to break in on goal. He also made a pair of saves a minute apart on the half-hour mark to deny Lacriox and Maalique Foster.

The Switchbacks outshot their hosts by a 16-8 margin as they tried to extend their own nine-game undefeated streak with Damus also denied by a goal line clearance just before halftime by Anthony Herbert, but the visitors were unable to find a way through, held scoreless for the first time since April 13.

“He’s a beast,” said Maples of Tambakis. “He’s amazing. He’s one of the guys that, you just know he’s going to have a good game. I’ve yet to see him have a bad game. And he’s a good guy with his feet. He’s a great leader. He’s just perfect, you know?”

The pressure the Switchbacks presented illustrated the target New Mexico has now built for itself as one of the top sides in the Western Conference, now sitting three points ahead of Sacramento Republic FC with one fewer game played as the season nears the midway point.

“We're not taking anybody by surprise,” said Quill. “So, that’s what I’m most proud of – that’s a hot team, and we took care of business. [The Switchbacks are] a quality side. That was not an easy game. I’m proud of the grit and determination to find a way.”

As the season continues to build, the pressure will continue to rise for a United side unaccustomed to this position – no longer the loveable underdog, but a frontrunner in their conference.

This time, Maples and his teammates showed they were up for the task.

“It’s just one of those nights where sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall for you,” he said. “I was just happy to do my job and just win us a game.”

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos