Hot at home: United's winning streak on the line versus San Antonio FC

May 24—Saturday, 7 p.m., 101.7 FM, ESPN+ (streaming), Estrella TV

Home has been a happy place for New Mexico United this season.

For visiting teams, not so much.

United will try to keep those reviews in place Saturday night when it hosts San Antonio FC for a USL Championship Western Conference battle. NMU (6-2-1) has won seven straight matches at Isotopes Park dating back to last season, but "The Lab" has not been a house of horrors for SAFC of late.

San Antonio (3-2-5) has not played up to its usual standard this season, but the 2022 USLC champs figure to find their stride at some point. New Mexico seems as likely a place as any, considering that SAFC is unbeaten in its last four meetings with United — including back-to-back wins at Isotopes Park.

NMU coach Eric Quill expects a stiff challenge Saturday with United having played a Tuesday match in New York while SAFC has been off since May 11.

"San Antonio's a great organization and they're known for their mentality," Quill said Friday. "They're very direct and will come right at you. They've got a lot of firepower, too. We have to take care of the ball in the midfield and we have to win one-on-one battles or we'll be in trouble."

While SAFC will be the more rested side, United comes in on a hot streak and has a few advantages. One is depth, as Quill has not hesitated to rotate players and make lineup changes in an effort to keep his team fresh.

It's paid off, as 13 players have scored goals in 12 games in USLC and U.S. Open Cup play. Two new entries joined the list during Tuesday's 3-0 Open Cup win over NYCFC II, as Avionne Flanagan and Anthony Herbert netted their first goals of the season.

Herbert, a defender, smiled when asked about his second-half header.

"It's most important for players in the back to keep everyone together and try to get a clean sheet," he said. "But everyone on this roster can attack also. It always feels good put the ball in the net — especially on a header."

Quill appreciates his team's willingness to share the ball and said the variety of goal scorers makes it difficult for opponents to formulate a game plan.

"That's what we're built for," he said. "I wouldn't say we have a lot of goal scorers so much as we have a lot of great soccer players who can score goals."

Quill added that this season's roster was constructed with Albuquerque in mind. NMU was just 6-5-3 at home last season before winning its final three at the Lab to sneak into a postseason berth. Home cooking has tasted better this year, with four straight wins at the Lab, including one over MLS Real Salt Lake.

"We want to use the altitude and our crowd to our advantage," Quill said. "Last year when I got here, the roster was set. We've changed it to fit our personnel to our advantages. So far, it's working."

Quill said United's depth allows it to take advantage of playing at high altitude. NMU looks to keep the ball for long stretches early and make opposing teams chase. NMU also looks to press consistently on defense, not giving opposing players time to rest or relax.

Albuquerque native Jackson DuBois said the impact can be noticeable.

"You can see late in the first half guys are gassed and don't want to be out there," he said. "That's kind of a red light for us to start pushing even harder and try to get one or two goals. You see it even more in the second half, guys getting fatigued."

Quill hopes playing at home will help level the playing field against well-rested San Antonio.

"We had a long trip this week," he said, "but we've taken steps to keep guys fresh and we've got a deep roster. It's next guy up. San Antonio's a quality opponent and we're looking forward to the opportunity to play them at home."

Players to watch

San Antonio (3-2-5): After getting off to a fast start in March, SAFC has just one win to show for April and May. Unlike in recent seasons, the club has not produced a prolific goal scorer. Offseason addition and United killer Luis Solignac has made just one appearance and his teammates have largely shared the wealth in his absence. Five players have two goals apiece, including Juan Agudelo, who has a team-leading 14 shots. One player who has distinguished himself is playmaking midfielder Jorge Hernandez, who leads the USL Championship with 32 chances created and 102 crosses and ranks second with five assists. However, Hernandez picked up a red card in SAFC's last contest and will miss Saturday's match. Defender Kevon Lambert also has been a major contributor. On loan from MLS Real Salt Lake, he has played all 900 minutes for SAFC and has two goals, 20 tackles won and 81 duels won.

New Mexico (6-2-1): United's attack continues to be a mix-and-match proposition with different players contributing goals on a weekly basis. It's a problem for opponents and a plus for coach Eric Quill as only Greg Hurst (4 goals) and Daniel Bruce (2) have multiple goals in USLC play. NMU also has nine assists in league play — one apiece from nine players. Including U.S. Open Cup matches, New Mexico has 23 goals with 13 players chipping in at least one. Among the few to score twice is defender Talen Maples, who continues to be an iron man on NMU's back line. Maples, who cashed in a goal in Tuesday's 3-0 Open Cup win at NYCFC II, has played all 810 minutes in USLC competition and ranks fourth with 49 clearances. Only Maples, Marco Micaletto, Zico Bailey and Arturo Astorga have started every USLC match.

NOTEWORTHY: Fans can expect a physical contest Saturday as San Antonio FC ranks second in the USLC with 169 fouls conceded. (NMU is 20th with 122). SAFC's Lambert and New Mexico's Bailey are tied for third in the league with five yellow cards apiece. ... According to this week's USL Championship Power Rankings, United is fourth trailing Charleston, Louisville and Sacramento. San Antonio is ranked 12th.