Adversity knocking: Banged-up United opens busy stretch in Las Vegas

May 3—Saturday, 8:30 p.m., 101.7 FM, ESPN+ (streaming), Estrella TV

If there is such a thing as an ideal time to be banged up, this is not it for New Mexico United.

Facing three matches in an eight-day span, United limps into Saturday night's road match at Las Vegas Lights FC ready to put its depth to the test. Injuries both major and minor figure to make the coming stretch all the more challenging as NMU faces two USL Championship matches and Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup meeting with MLS Real Salt Lake.

"We're a little banged up right now with guys not available," United coach Eric Quill said. "There's probably a little mental fatigue in the locker room, too, with all the travel we've had. But that's the challenge we face and we're ready to take it on. Las Vegas is the sole destination this week and all our energies are focused on that."

New Mexico (4-2-1) could use a bounce-back performance against Lights FC (3-5-0) after what's been a difficult few days. United was on the losing end of a 3-0 decision last week at Tampa Bay and two days later announced that popular Albuquerque native Cristian Nava reinjured his surgically repaired knee and will miss the rest of the season.

"Our guys are heartbroken for their brother," Quill said. "I feel bad for him because I know how hard Cristian worked to get back. If there's a silver lining, it's that he's young (20). Guys have come back from two ACLs and had great careers."

Nava, Kalen Ryden and Abu Danladi will not play Saturday, Quill said, but the injured list is unlikely to stop there. Several NMU players are dealing with nagging injuries and were still being evaluated Friday. That group likely includes Daniel Bruce and Harry Swartz, who missed last week's match, and Sergio Rivas, who has been battling a hamstring issue.

As a result, United made a roster addition Friday, signing defender Abdi Mohamed to a 25-day contract. A former teammate of United midfielder Marco Micaletto with Columbus Crew 2, the 27-year-old Mohamed will be available for selection Saturday.

Despite their week of adversity, United's players are looking forward to the upcoming schedule.

"I think Tampa Bay was a wake-up call for us," forward Greg Hurst said. "They're a fantastic team and they've proven that year after year, but that's the standard we want to get to. We've been outstanding in stages this year, but we've got to try to get more consistency."

Las Vegas can make the same claim. Lights FC turned heads around the USL Championship with a three-game winning streak that included victories over El Paso, Oakland and San Antonio, but the club has since lost three straight. Las Vegas was routed 6-0 by high-scoring Charleston last week.

"We're both coming off disappointing losses," Quill said. "This match will test the mentality of both clubs."

Lights FC has revamped its roster and approach under first-year coach Dennis Sanchez. It's a possession-heavy strategy that has Las Vegas ranked fourth in the USLC in passes, but Quill does not plan to let the home team get comfortable Saturday night.

"If we let them do that, it will be a long night," he said. "We want to press them and turn them over on the first couple passes. We need to get out early and put the pressure on them."

It's been an effective game plan against Las Vegas, which ranks second to last in the USLC with 16 goals conceded. The seven first-half goals allowed by Lights FC are a league high.

Players to watch

New Mexico (4-2-1): Determining players to watch is something of a crapshoot for United thanks largely to injuries. Defenders Arturo Astorga and Talen Maples are the only two who have played all 630 minutes in USL Championship competition. Numerous NMU players are on the questionable list this week with nagging ailments. One who has been relatively healthy is midfielder Marco Micaletto, who has started every match and is fourth in minutes played (607). Micaletto has been on the ball a lot, leading the club in passes (372) and chances created (9), but United has not been able to take full advantage of his playmaking skills. Micaletto has one goal, one assist and five shots and could benefit from more touches in the attacking zone. Dayonn Harris has been a key cog of late and shares the club lead in shots (12) with Greg Hurst.

Las Vegas (3-5-0): Anyone holding a copy of last season's Lights FC roster can afford to toss it in the recycling bin. The club opted for a full rebuild after finishing 3-21-10 in 2023 — new coach, new philosophy and a slew of new players. So far, so good, as Las Vegas already has matched last season's win total, but the club is still adapting to its new identity and is currently mired in a three-match losing streak. There are a few familiar faces (from other teams) on the LVFC roster, including former league MVP Solomon Asante, who starred with Phoenix and Indy but has not scored this season. Newcomers Gaoussou Samake and Valentin Noel have been top performers thus far. Samake, a defender, has two goals, two assists and nine chances created, while midfielder Noel leads the team with three goals, 13 shots and 11 chances created.

NOTEWORTHY: Lights FC goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena is the younger brother of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena. Both were born in Cuba. ... In spite of its struggles last season, Las Vegas held its own against New Mexico, playing to draws in both meetings. ... Through four home dates, Lights FC ranks second to last in USLC attendance at 1,531 per game.