New Mexico United scored one of the most clutch victories in their five-year history, traveling to Phoenix and defeating Phoenix Rising FC by a 2-1 margin, moving above the playoff line with one match left – Friday’s home tilt against Memphis 901 FC. Amando Moreno and Justin Portillo scored for the Black & Yellow, who could control their own destiny, depending on the result of the Monterey Bay FC – Birmingham Legion match on Sunday.
The first half was largely uneventful, with each team contributing a few half-chances, and United earning the only shot on-frame. The second half was very much the opposite, as United took six shots (two on-target) and Phoenix took three (two on-target).
In the 52nd minute, the Black & Yellow broke the stalemate, as an errant pass from Rising’s Mohamed Traore was intercepted at the top of the box by Amando Moreno. Moreno took one touch toward goal before chipping goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo for the game’s first score – his team-leading tenth tally of the season.
Terrific team defending kept that 1-0 lead intact as Will Seymore, Kalen Ryden, Josh Suggs, and a host of United players made key interventions, and Andrew Thomas claimed high crosses off his line multiple times. In the 79th minute, Greg Hurst took a ball along the left sideline near center-pitch and darted past two defenders. By the time Alejandro Fuenmayor caught up, Hurst was goalside, and Fuenmayor had no choice but to bring him down, earning United a penalty and Fuenmayor a booking.
Justin Portillo stepped up to the spot three minutes later to double the advantage for New Mexico, earning all three points and a trip above the playoff line. United has been in fine form of-late – losing just once in their last five matches, and beating the likes of playoff teams, Louisville City FC, Indy Eleven, and now Phoenix Rising FC.
Up next is a massive home tilt against Memphis 901 FC on Friday night. United will be keeping an eye on Sunday’s Birmingham Legion – Monterey Bay FC match. Should Monterey Bay lose or draw, then United would control their own destiny, and a win on Friday would clinch a playoff spot. United could finish as high as 7th place in the Western Conference, pending the outcome of other matches.