Ketterer, Hererra Shine as Locomotive FC Earns Crucial Point
It won't count as a goal for Chapa Herrera, but it will count as a goal. It wasn't a clean sheet for Logan Ketterer, but you could say he found some bleach.
It wasn't a win for El Paso Locomotive FC, but there was a point. The kind you earn and the kind you make.
On the tight, elastic but not-so-fantastic FieldTurf of Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City, Mark Lowry and Locomotive FC began the process of turning their ship back in the right direction with a 1-1 draw against opportunistic Energy FC.
There is no describing how hard that can be in the sweaty, Swiss-cheese-roster world of American second division soccer, especially after nearly being set adrift by a raft of injuries on the back line.
But with no wind in its sails, El Paso (7-4-7, 28 points) put oars in the water and rowed itself out of a deficit to salvage a point.
Lowry lauded his team's resolve.
"The first half, we were magnificent," said the Englishman. "Completely controlled the game and a dubious call from the referee gifts them a PK goal. Going from dominating to being a goal down was a great test of character for the guys and they came through with flying colors."
After a deflection caromed off Locomotive centerback Drew Beckie in the area referee Thomas Snyder whistled the Canadian international for handball, though it appeared Beckie didn't know much about it as the ball came his way from behind.
Omar Salgado's former Las Vegas Lights FC teammate, Rafael Garcia, converted his spot kick in the 29th with some help from the left post.
Summer soccer swelter and thin rosters aside, there was that other oft-endured pothole in second division play. The pitch.
Speaking of pitches, isn't it amazing that the fields in the best shape for Locomotive FC's last few matches are not soccer-specific or multi-purpose football stadia, but baseball diamonds?
Let's say Taft Stadium's turf was...responsive. Normally home to Oklahoma City public schools for high school football, the surface might shave a tenth of a second off someone's 40-yard dash time. Good if you're trying to draw interest from the college football behemoth 30 miles to the south, bad if you're trying to trap a pass and you can't use your hands.
"The field conditions were incredibly challenging for us in terms of passing the ball with any good tempo," said Lowry. "The turf made it almost impossible to move the ball quickly but the players persevered, stayed true to our style of play and came away with a well deserved point."
And now, a 10-day break with fifth place in the Western Conference still in the grasp. The draw also keeps Oklahoma City (6-5-8) in the rearview, 8th place with 26 points.
Concerns remain. After being named USL Championship Player of the Month for May and vaulting to the top of the Golden Boot race with 10 goals, Jerome Kiesewetter has only gotten as close as the woodwork this last month.
As he hit the sycamore in San Antonio, Kiesewetter found the oak in OKC (surely a country music song in the making), knocking his shot off the right post in the 50th after getting by Energy keeper Cody Laurendi.
Kiesewetter needs service he has not received. Lowry has worked his lineups to get the former US international more involved, but over the last few weeks the final third has looked more like the puzzle of March and April for Locomotive FC than the ripe fields of May.
Frankly, not having Mechack Jérôme – much less a settled, healthy backline – has a lot to do with that. Credit James Kiffe and Omar Salgado. In the absence of the Haitian international, likely out for the season, El Paso's wings have done their utmost to make up for the missing line-busting passes Jérôme provided with hard work on the flanks.
Might there be another point of concern regarding Josué Aarón Gómez? The midfielder on loan from FC Juárez was Lowry's first substitution in the 62nd minute but was subbed out for Derek Gebhard in the 79th and promptly walked off the field.
No word on if Gómez suffered an injury that needed further treatment or if there was something else requiring his exit, but exit he did.
Lowry brought up his own point of contention after the game.
“At the moment we feel like we aren’t getting the calls we deserve,” he said. "Four penalties called against us in three games and I’m struggling to see how any of them are true pens. It’s frustrating but it’s making us stronger."
A matter of perspective, perhaps. But overall, El Paso looked more assured in Oklahoma City than it did in its 0-0 draw in San Antonio because it had to dig itself out of a hole.
And, yes, if you're counting along with Lowry, there was a second penalty called Saturday night, meaning...
Logan Ketterer continues to prove himself as the anchor of El Paso's defense. The Wisconsin native made two immense saves, both on former Jamaican international Deshorn Brown.
In the 54th minute Brown blasted a shot from just left of the spot, but Ketterer slid in and got his left hand up in time to deflect the ball straight down into Taft's rubber pellets and back into his hands.
The second spot kick came in the 61st minute as Kiffe was whistled for fouling Energy midfielder John Brown. But Ketterer was up to the task, diving to his left to stonewall Brown's roller in the 61st, making it three straight matches with a penalty save.
Though Ketterer's bigger stop came seven minutes earlier, there is no arguing the bigger moment was the saved penalty, giving Locomotive some steam. El Paso's goal came just over a minute later.
Andrew Fox's opportunistic long ball split two defenders and found Chapa Herrera streaking out of midfield. The El Paso native chested the ball forward into the area then got his right leg up to knock it toward the net off the bounce.
Because it deflected off the chest of OKC defender Mekeil Williams it goes onto the score sheet as an own goal. But the operative word for Locomotive would be "goal". The visitors had their equalizer and managed a few more opportunities while holding Energy FC at bay.
Far from a full-throated roar, but a sigh of relief will do.
For Lowry, it goes even deeper.
"It’s frustrating but it’s making us stronger," he said. "We certainly embrace being from El Paso, and we have no problem standing up and taking on whatever, or whoever, is in front of us. It’s us against the world, and we are not fazed by that one bit."