Sep. 10—New Mexico United coach Zach Prince opened his latest media session with a trip to the condiment rack.
Prince, his players and United fans have been waiting impatiently for a flood of goals to start accumulating in their favor. In recent weeks, it's been a trickle at best, leaving New Mexico treading water in the USL Championship Western Conference playoff race.
Prince remains convinced the dam will break, especially after United fired a 19-shot barrage toward the frame in last week's head-scratching 2-1 loss to El Paso. But instead of using a descriptive flood-control analogy, Prince opted for ketchup.
"It's like trying to get ketchup on a plate," he said. "You shake the bottle, shake it, shake it and get nothing. Then, all of a sudden, there's a bunch of ketchup on your plate. I feel like we're in that kind of situation. The ketchup's going to come at some point."
United will be hoping for a red-plate Saturday when it visits Rio Grande Valley FC for a key Western Conference matchup. New Mexico (11-8-9, 42 points) enters in fifth place, one point behind Sacramento and two ahead of El Paso. United has six matches remaining.
Rio Grande Valley (9-12-6, 33 points) sits in 10th place but just four behind seventh-place Las Vegas, which currently holds the conference's final playoff position. RGVFC has seven matches remaining.
It's been a rough season overall for the Toros, but with no team stepping forward to lock up the final playoff spots, RGVFC is making a hard, final push. The Toros are 2-1-3 in their last six outings, including a 2-0 win over El Paso on Wednesday.
"RGV is a well-coached team that's fighting to make the playoffs," Prince said. "This is a big game for both teams. We need to approach it with a ton of confidence."
On the field, United has not received many breaks of late. Shots rattling off the woodwork and controversial calls have changed the momentum of several matches and prevented the scoring breakthrough Prince and his players have been seeking.
Midfielder Daniel Bruce prefers not to dwell on such things.
"You can't," he said. "We have to keep our minds on ourselves, how we approach training and just be as prepared as possible. If we do that, goals, points and results will flow."
New Mexico has received some good fortune in terms of outside results. Sacramento, El Paso, Las Vegas and LA Galaxy II — contending with United for a fourth-place finish that brings with it a home playoff game — have also been spinning their wheels.
In spite of going 1-5-1 in its last five matches, United still has a great deal to play for in the season's final weeks.
"There's always a sense of urgency when you're getting toward the end of the season," Prince said, "but it's not as much about ramping things up as it's about being level-headed. Even after a game as frustrating as El Paso, where you dominate the play and don't get results, we have to focus on the moment."
United went 1-0-1 in back-to-back home matches against Rio Grande Valley in June, coming painfully close to two-game sweep. NMU won the first game 1-0 and led by the same score in game two, only to have Toros defender Jesus Vazquez net an equalizer in the 90th minute.
"They're a good team," Bruce said of the Toros. "They'll work hard and cover the ground but it's nothing we haven't faced before. The thing for us to understand is that every game is vital now. We have to come out and show that early in the game."
NM United at Rio Grande Valley FC, 6:30 p.m., espn+ (streaming), 101. 7 FM
PLAYERS TO WATCHNew Mexico (11-8-9): United's goal-scoring struggles reached a painful level in last week's 2-1 loss to El Paso, as NMU outshot the visitors 19-8, created numerous quality chances and had two apparent goals waved off for offside calls. Still, New Mexico's attack applied consistent pressure and recently signed forward Kevaughn Frater was a key cog. Frater scored United's only goal from a difficult angle and continued to make things difficult for opposing defenders. Frater has a goal, an assist and nine chances created in his first four appearances. Neco Brett continues to lead the club with seven goals and 37 shots despite missing the last five matches with a lower body injury.
Rio Grande Valley (9-12-6): The Toros have struggled for much of the season but are in the midst of a late playoff push. They are 2-1-3 over their last six matches and have outscored foes 11-5 in that span. Frank Lopez, who scored the go-ahead goal late in RGVFC's 2-0 win at El Paso on Wednesday, leads the club with five goals and 31 shots. Midfielder Ricky Ruiz, who has appeared in all 27 matches for the Toros, assisted on both goals. Former New Mexico playmaker Chelo Martinez leads the club with six assists and 39 chances created. Tyler Deric, who posted his fifth clean sheet against El Paso, has been RGVFC's primarty goalkeeper, but Javier Garcia and Colin Miller have seen time.
NOTEWORTHY: United posted a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw in back-to-back home matches against RGVFC on June 6 and 9. Defender Jesus Vazquez, who scored the Toros' tying goal in the 90th minute of game two, has since been swapped to Indy Eleven for midfielder Jonas Fjeldberg. ... Midfielder Daniel Bruce was on the active roster but did not appear against El Paso, the first match he has missed for NMU this season. Bruce and midfielder Justin Portillo lead the club with 26 appearances apiece.