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Grand opening: United tops Pittsburgh in front of large home crowd

Mar. 9—Not bad for an opening act.

Greg Hurst punched home the season's first goal and New Mexico United made it stand for a 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at an energized Isotopes Park on Saturday.

Other than perhaps another goal or two, United got exactly what it wanted from its season opener. New Mexico dominated possession, was well organized defensively and came away with three points against a club that posted the USL Championship's best record last season.

It was certainly enough to keep a flag-waving crowd of 11,347 loud and engaged — and United's numerous first-year players motivated.

"I'm super pumped," defender Talen Maples said after the final whistle. "These fans are so crazy and we appreciate them. Some of the returning guys told me what it would be like, but I've never played in front of a crowd this big. It was great."

Hurst, who knocked home the lone goal in the 44th minute, was all smiles after signing autographs and posing for photos with fans after the match.

"We were so excited for this match," he said. "To see so many fans supporting us here in our opener feels really good. I'm glad we were able to come away with three points for them."

Hurst, who scored the final two goals of NMU's 2023 season, picked up where he left off after a well-placed lead pass from Jacobo Reyes gave him running room just outside the Riverhounds' penalty area. Hurst juggled the ball past Pittsburgh goalkeeper Eric Dick and managed to stay upright before tapping the ball home with his right foot in front of an ecstatic supporters' section.

Hurst said the primary trick was keeping his balance.

"Yeah, I got off my legs a little bit on that one," he said. "Glad I was able to stay up. Getting that first goal is always a great feeling."

New Mexico had its chances to get more, putting five shots on target to the Riverhounds' one. Reyes sent an open shot right into the arms of Dick in the 15th minute, and NMU's Harry Swartz and Nicky Hernandez both sent headers on goal only to have them saved.

"I would've liked to see us get a second goal," United coach Eric Quill said, "but Pittsburgh is always one of the best defensive teams in the league. I'm glad we scored when we did. It was a great goal any way you look at it."

NMU was equally solid on the defensive end with goalkeeper Alex Tambakis facing relatively few major threats. Arguably the biggest came in the 89th minute, when Riverhounds forward Langston Blackstock collected the ball in front after a corner kick. His low shot deflected off United defender Zico Bailey and changed direction, but Tambakis corralled it with a diving save.

Pittsburgh earned another corner late in stoppage time, but Maples headed it away to start a celebration in the stands.

"It was my time to make a play," Maples said. "I'm just glad I was able to do it. Getting a clean sheet in the first game is always good."

NMU finished with 66% of the possession and was especially dominant in the first half. New Mexico's next three matches will be on the road, making Saturday's win that much bigger, Quill said.

"We wanted this one badly," he said. "With a massive crowd like this, we want them to come back. We can't feel like we were a finished product today, it's a long season. But this was a good first step and I think we'll be an exciting team to watch."

United next visits first-year Rhode Island FC on March 16 for 2 p.m. start.