Carolina lightning: Rivas' stoppage-time goal sparks United to third straight win

Apr. 20—That qualifies as stealing a win on the road.

Sergio Rivas chopped a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner of the net just seconds into stoppage time and New Mexico United pulled out a 3-2 road win over North Carolina FC on Saturday night.

United never led in regulation but twice came up with quick responses when the home team scored. Rivas then capitalized on a slick cross from Nicky Hernandez to give New Mexico its third straight USL Championship win and a fourth consecutive victory overall.

Greg Hurst cashed in the first two goals for NMU (4-1-1), which moved into third place in the USLC Western Conference standings — two points back of Sacramento and one behind Monterey Bay — both of whom have played seven games to United's six.

United coach Eric Quill was pleased to see his squad continue to attack aggressively in the closing minutes.

"That's one of the things I love about this group," Quill said in a postgame phone interview, "we don't want to come on the road and tie. We believe we can win every game and we're going for it."

It was not New Mexico's finest hour on the defensive end. Slips, turnovers and several breakdowns helped NCFC (1-3-3) grab two first-half leads and opened the door for a potential go-ahead goal on more than one occasion in the second half.

North Carolina's Julian Palacios banged a one-on-one shot past NMU goalkeeper Alex Tambakis in the 16th minute after defender Will Seymore stumbled and fell down. NCFC's second goal — a 28th-minute header by Ezra Armstrong — came after Rafael Mentzingen slipped past two United defenders and sent an open cross in front of New Mexico's goal.

In both cases, United wasted no time getting even.

First, Hurst delivered from the penalty spot after teammate Marco Micaletto was dragged down in the penalty area. His kick evened the score at 1-1 in the 19th minute.

Less than a minute after NCFC grabbed a 2-1 lead, Hurst was on the receiving end of a serve from Arturo Astorga. Hurst caught North Carolina goalkeeper Jake McGuire off his line and lobbed a running shot over him that bounced into the net to make the score 2-2.

"I challenged Hursty this week in training," Quill said. "I told him, 'You've got one goal in five games and we need you to step up.' He stepped up."

Hurst's goals allowed United to go to intermission tied despite being outshot 10-4 in the first half. Quill made some adjustments during the break, and New Mexico outshot the home team 6-5 in the second half and put four shots on target to NCFC's one.

"I felt like the first half was kind of frantic and not at our pace," Quill said. "We dropped our lines a little bit to give them less space and started to become more fluid with our possession."

Both teams had opportunities to pull ahead but the score remained 2-2 into stoppage time. That's when Hernandez worked his way around a defender near the right end line and crossed the ball back toward the 6-yard line where Rivas chopped it off the turf and into the net. It was the first goal of the season for the Cibola High School graduate, who has missed time with a hamstring issue and entered Saturday's game in the 73rd minute.

"Credit Nicky for keeping his head up, seeing the runs and floating that ball perfectly to Sergio," Quill said. "That was not an easy finish, and I'm so proud of Sergio coming back from injury and getting a goal like that. It was huge for us."