El Paso Strong but Phoenix Fortunate as Locomotive Resumes Play
Call it the Teddy Roosevelt.
When we saw Locomotive FC's forward-in-neutral Jerome Kiesewetter show up at the team watch party, it was clear that El Paso was in for an uphill battle to earn three points at Phoenix Rising FC's Casino Arizona Field.
Call it the Sir Edmund Hillary.
When Phoenix's Solomon Asante and Locomotive's James Kiffe came together challenging for a ball in the 45th minute – Asante clasping his mouth and gracefully swooning backward like a 19th-century debutante who'd just overheard an unbearable secret, earning Kiffe a red card from referee Guido Gonzalez, Jr. – it was clear uphill had become ascending Mt. Everest.
Call it the Neil Armstrong.
When Gonzalez intervened again in the 71st, deeming El Paso's Drew Beckie to have fouled Phoenix's Adam Jahn on a 50-50 ball in the area and awarding Rising FC a penalty, converted by Asante, it was clear a 10-man Locomotive FC's chance to earn a mere point had become a moonshot.
Rising FC continues to set the mark in the USL Championship, earning it's league record 13th straight win, 2-1, over an El Paso team that came in keen to bring a pelt back to its still-reeling hometown.
But the hosts and the math – if not the historical analogues – had other ideas.
Locomotive was fresh and ready for a game, ready to move forward after the tragic mass shooting a week earlier. Rising FC's supporter groups, the Red Fury and Los Bandidos, unfurled dual tifos honoring the victims and the city alongside El Paso's 8th Notch.
How well would El Paso have managed Saturday with 11 men for 90 minutes? We'll never know.
Locomotive FC needs goals. Over the last few weeks the team has seemed to be stuck more and more in its own half as games wear on.
El Paso's top goal-scorer, Kiesewetter, hasn’t played in a month and a half and still leads the next-closest scorer – now Edson Partida – by seven, 10 goals to three, the largest gap between the top two scorers on any team in the USL Championship.
Head coach Mark Lowry knows this, pushing backliner Andrew Fox up front to be a target man for crosses Saturday. But the red card turned offense from an objective to a wish.
Defensively and in possession, it was another Lowry master class. A 10-man Locomotive FC still had 46 percent possession and completed 81 percent of its passes.
Rising FC completed a stellar 86 percent of its passes, though; so as the teams dueled and canceled each other out on a sweltering Saturday night, it was clear somebody was going to have to catch a break.
To which team do you suppose said break would fall?
Not that Phoenix is merely lucky. Rising FC is worthy of its top spot, has arguably the best roster in the league and is blessed with health.
Despite it all, Locomotive FC might have been unfortunate not to come away with a point, especially after responding to José Aguinaga's 21st-minute opener so quickly.
Just when you wondered if El Paso’s sputtering offense could muster an equalizer, Sebastián Contreras intercepted an awful Rising clearance, passed to Fox who scooted it to Partida.
The young winger on loan from Toluca took it first-time and blasted the ball past Zac Lubin -- El Paso's first goal in nearly a month, a mere five minutes after the opener.
But Asante’s 71st-minute penalty was just as well-hit.
Though Locomotive FC welcomed back goalkeeper Logan Ketterer after a quad strain suffered against San Antonio FC, Ketterer's penalty-saving magic was no match for the diminutive powerhouse, Asante.
Ketterer has stopped four spot kicks this season but Asante sent him sprawling to his left as the shot went the other way for the Ghanaian’s league-leading 16th goal.
The loss drops Locomotive FC to 7-7-8 on the season and just out of the playoff picture in 12th place, while Rising FC (15-2-5) becomes the first USL Championship side to 50 points.
There was some good news for the visitors Saturday. In addition to Ketterer, El Paso welcomed centerback Chiro N'Toko and defensive midfielder Yuma back to the starting lineup.
Still, all El Paso eyes remain on the missing No. 17 jersey. The Orthodontist’s shop has been closed since mid-June and the doctor’s been out since mid-July.
Kiesewetter appeared to be in decent spirits Saturday and close to match fitness, but there is no official word from the team as to whether or not he’ll be in the lineup next Saturday at Southwest University Park when Locomotive FC returns home to face last place Tacoma Defiance.
If Kiesewetter can help El Paso back into the win column for the first time since June 15th, call it the Gen. Lucius D. Clay.
Truly, it would be a Berlin Airlift.