Is Locomotive FC Picking Up Steam at Just the Right Time?
Locomotive FC left it late again, but not too late.
You’ll pardon Mark Lowry for hoping this also describes El Paso’s season and not just their last few games.
For the fifth time in six matches, Locomotive nabbed a second goal after the 80th minute.
Another clawed Locomotive FC back into a draw with Tulsa Roughnecks.
Say what you will about Lowry’s sudden need for a cardiologist, for a team that all too often has had trouble generating a single goal for much of its inaugural season it’s a welcome change.
“Right now, it’s a good moment and we want to continue with this,” said Lowry. “You have to do a great job of being in that moment, the ecstasy and the lows.”
If Locomotive FC continue to wait until the final 10 minutes to deliver those moments, prescription medication might be in order for fans and coaches alike.
But it also speaks to what Lowry’s style is beginning to accomplish as El Paso rebounds from a terrible, injury-hampered stretch of near misses in mid-season.
Fresno FC (16-7-8, 56 points) has had an incredible season, soaring to second in the USL Championship’s Western Conference table.
Locomotive’s next opponent, Reno 1868 FC (16-10-5, 53 points), is the only team with a realistic shot of unseating the Foxes from their perch next to untouchable Phoenix Rising FC (22-3-6, 72 points).
That includes a 3-0 bashing of El Paso in Fresno, June 29th.
But Wednesday night, Locomotive FC dominated with 60 percent of the possession, completing 87 percent of its passes.
Despite the fact that playing an attacking-minded midfield diamond with two strikers in Jerome Kiesewetter and Josué Aarón Gómez made it narrower and invited Fresno to counter up the wings, El Paso’s back four along with defensive midfielder Yuma glued the Foxes’ attack into virtual irrelevance.
It was only right that team captain and backline anchor Chiro N’Toko nabbed his first goal of the season to open the scoring in the 53rd minute.
Were it not for a Goal-of-the-Week-worthy free kick from Fresno’s 35-year-old Argentinian wizard, Juan Pablo Caffa, to equalize the match in the 66th, the Foxes would have left El Paso stifled with only three other shots on frame over the 90 minutes.
But late goals in five of the last six matches? That's a trend, not a one-off.
It speaks to the fact that Locomotive FC remains dialed in to Lowry's system. It is also revealing a mental toughness and belief from which a team could draw only if it is committed.
It means the possession and passing is finally giving El Paso a payoff.
And it happened again Wednesday in a game where the two players who have earned those late clutch goals –– Josué Aarón Gómez and Kiesewetter –– were not at their best. Locomotive FC could only equal the visitors with four shots on goal.
“I’m disappointed with Aarón and Jerome, frankly,” said Lowry, after more than one quality cross rolled through the Fresno box and out the other side without either of El Paso’s forwards making contact.
“Two guys that, generally, that’s their game. They’re forwards that are going to get on the end of those balls. They’re not forwards that are going to drop deep and score from 20 yards or beat four or five players.
“If they’re not scoring those, then what (kind of goals) are we going to score?” asked Lowry. “Those two are…poachers, so when those (passes) went across and I looked into the box and they were kind of out a little bit, 10 yards, 12 yards out…
“I was a little disappointed.”
But he was over the moon for the former Bundesliga man in stoppage time, after a bit of work from his former US U-20 teammate.
Though it won’t show on the scoresheet, Omar Salgado continued his run of having a huge impact on matches as something of a super-sub.
Coming on with Alexy Bosetti in the 79th minute, Salgado torched the Foxes along the left wing, and in stoppage time dinked and jinked his way past two defenders to pop a cross to James Kiffe, who’s two magnificent touches set the table for Kiesewetter.
Kiffe stretched to trap Salgado’s high cross into the box with his right foot and, off the bounce, first-timed a laser beam with his left that Fresno goalie C.J. Cochran could only parry…straight to a waiting Kiesewetter who simply couldn’t miss, skipping the ball into a gaping net.
El Paso (12-9-9, 45 points) has suddenly won three straight and four of its last five matches and finds itself in eighth in the amazingly tightly-squeezed Western Conference.
How tight is the playoff race in the West? Four points more would put Locomotive FC in fourth place. Four points fewer would drop them below the playoff line.
Late, but looking more and more like a team that might have added time this season.