Locomotive FC Readies for Playoff Clash with New Mexico United
It is obvious to any Locomotive FC supporter that there is no bigger rival than New Mexico United. Both clubs came into USL as expansion teams last year and they have experienced great success in a shirt amount of time. NMU started fast in 2019 but faded and was knocked out in the conference play-in round. El Paso, on the other hand, picked up steam throughout their inaugural season and rode that momentum all the way to the Western Conference Finals of the USL Playoffs.
The shortened 2020 season has been a similar story for Locomotive FC. They gradually improved as the season progressed and finished with an 11-match unbeaten streak to capture the Western Conference's Group C. New Mexico United led Group C for much of the season, but they could not keep up with the hot Locomotive and finished second to El Paso. Now, they meet tomorrow night at Southwest University Park in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In their four regular season meetings, both clubs each won a match while finishing with a pair of draws. Since New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has kept her state on lockdown since COVID began, all of their games have been played away from Albuquerque. Tomorrow night will be no different, making NMU's season a big success despite not having any home field advantage.
Locomotive FC has been banged up during their late season push, and they will once again be without the services of playmaker Omar Salgado. New addition Leandro Carrijo stepped up in a huge way last weekend against FC Tulsa with a pair of goals, and El Paso head coach Mark Lowry will once again need a strong performance from the veteran striker. The club changed their attacking strategy and put Carrijo in his more familiar position of center forward rather than play on a wing like Salgado. The move proved to be a good one for the all-time leading goal scorer from FC Juarez, who had not scored prior to last week's playoff match. Carrijo will need another big offensive performance tomorrow night, along with Aaron Gomez, Dylan Mares, and the rest of the club.
Defensively, Coach Lowry knows that his back line will need to contain United's attackers. Mechak Jerome and Yuma will have to slow down midfielder Christopher Wehan and forward Devon Sandoval. NMU plays a physical game and will try to take advantage of their opportunities against a strong Locomotive FC defense. In four matches regular season matches, both clubs have tallied six goals apiece and there is no reason to think that tomorrow night will be any different. The Locomotive will need everything they can get from the 1,600-plus fans at sold out Southwest University Park to come out on the winning end and return to the Western Conference Finals. It is sure to be an electric atmosphere in downtown El Paso and the most important match of this young and great soccer rivalry.