Heat check: Three goals in five minutes power United over Matadors

Apr. 16—RIO RANCHO — For the first 57 minutes, New Mexico United had its hands full with the visiting Lubbock Matadors on Tuesday night.

For the next five, United put on a show.

Harry Swartz, Daniel Bruce and Mukwelle Akale netted three crowd-pleasing goals in quick succession and New Mexico rode those scores to a 3-1 victory in a U.S. Open Cup third-round match at Rio Rancho High School.

The win sends NMU on to the round of 32, which will be played May 7-8. United will learn its opponent, date and site when the tournament draw is held Thursday at 11 a.m.

Coach Eric Quill and his players were not quite ready to think that far ahead Tuesday night. NMU returns to USL Championship play Saturday with a match at North Carolina FC, but the team took a few minutes Tuesday night to enjoy its win over a game Lubbock side.

"That's a good team," Quill said of the National Premier Soccer League's Matadors. "They have a lot of college players and they're a quality opponent. It feels good to get a win and advance."

United certainly had the better of things for most of the night, outshooting Lubbock 23-8 (8-3 in shots on goal) and holding 66% of the possession. Still, it took the host team quite a while to break through. The teams went to halftime level at 0-0 after both missed on quality scoring opportunities.

Bruce said United did not overthink things during its halftime break.

"We created quite a few good chances in the first half," he said. "It wasn't really a bad performance. We just had to think about what we did successfully and lean into that in the second half. I think we were able to do that."

Bruce played a role in helping United take charge of things. He set up the opening goal with a well-placed cross from the right wing that Swartz redirected into the net in the 58th minute.

Just two minutes later, Bruce and Jacobo Reyes used some quick back-and-forth passing to create space in the middle of the field. Bruce capitalized with a chip over the outstretched arms of Lubbock goalkeeper Owen Jack to make the score 2-0.

"It felt fantastic," Bruce said. "If I'm being honest, the first priority was to win, but it's always nice to score a goal. It was a great central combination and Jacobo's touch was amazing. I'm glad I was able to get a good touch on the ball."

United made it 3-0 in the 62nd minute on a perfectly placed 30-yard free kick by Akale, a hard bender that just cleared Jack's hands and slipped under cross bar.

"Three good goals like that gave us a little security," Quill said. "We have to be a little better going forward, but overall it was a good night for us."

United goalkeeper Kris Shakes lost his chance at a clean sheet in the 89th minute when Shuma Sasaki cashed in a penalty kick after being dragged down in the box. Still, it was the first win in a United uniform for Shakes — and for former La Cueva High School standout Jackson Dubois, an academy contract player who played 90 minutes in his first-team debut.

"It was amazing to be out there," Dubois said. "I just want to thank the players and the coaching staff for believing in me."

Albuquerque native Cristian Nava did not make his return from injury but remains on track to get back in action soon, Quill said.