After a stellar week that saw El Paso claim nine points in three games, earning many players individual accolades from League recognition, the Locos will face one of its toughest trials yet in the 2022 season: An away trip against on the east coast against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
The first franchise meeting between the two sides will be broadcast live on ESPN+ with kickoff set for 5:00 p.m. MT. Fans are encouraged to join El Paso Locomotive at its official watch party for giveaways at the Union Drafthouse on Sunland Drive (730 Sunland Park Dr Ste A).
It’s no secret El Paso Locomotive started off the 2022 USL Championship in a less than ideal run of form. The club was producing goals at a fast pace, however, it was leaking goals just as quickly to fall in its first four games. Fast forward to the present day, and El Paso Locomotive is still scoring goals, having scored 11 goals in its last five games. Defensively, the club has tightened up, conceding just four goals in the same time span.
The night and day difference between the start of the season and now has signaled a change in momentum for El Paso Locomotive. The team has rocketed from the bottom of Western Conference table to a playoff position. There is a feeling amongst the Locomotive faithful that El Paso Locomotive has turned a corner and the club is back to its dominating ways. This Saturday’s road trip to Pittsburgh will be a good test of just how far El Paso has come this season.
Pittsburgh won’t be an easy place to play. The stadium is small, the pitch is made of turf, and the Locos have to travel 1,792 miles to even show up for the game. The Eastern Conference team also boasts a league-leading goal scorer in Dane Kelly who has six goals so far in the season and Kenardo Forbes, who is tied in leading the league in assists with four. As if the offensive threat wasn’t challenging enough, the Pittsburgh defensive line is tied for third in the league for the least amount of goals conceded.
While El Paso Locomotive is on a hot run of form right now, winning its last three, will the resurging Sun City club be up for the challenge this weekend? The consensus in the locker room is as long as the Locos stick to their style of play, focusing on themselves and what they can control, yes.
“They’re going to battle. [Pittsburgh’s Head Coach] Bob Lilley has had a lot of success in this league and he always gets the best out of his players and his players fight for him,” said Goalkeeper Evan Newton. “It’s going to be chippy. They’re going to hit you late and try to get in your head. If we can match their energy and the work rate stays high, then our talent and the way we play football will shine through. First we have to be ready for a grind and a battle.”
When El Paso Locomotive can focus on themselves, the Sun City team does shine through both as a team and individually. Last week, El Paso claimed a full nine points, stamping the week closed with five players appearing across the Team of the Week lineup. Newton appeared on the bench alongside Midfielder Dylan Mares and Forward Aaron Gomez. After two weeks on the bench, Midfielder Diego Luna earned a spot in the Team of the Week Starting XI midfield. Forward Lucho Solignac led the charge, however, behind his three goals in two games to be named the USL Championship’s Player of the Week.
Now the Locos will be looking to match and out perform last week’s performance with another three-game week on the horizon. After Pittsburgh this Saturday, Locomotive returns home to host Sacramento Republic at Southwest University Park on Wednesday before traveling to California to play defending USL Championship title-winners Orange County SC on Saturday.
After the three big wins last week and the overall team performance, the full roster has no doubts it can do it again.
“We’re a bit tired which is normal but the coaching staff takes care of us and the numbers to make sure we aren’t over training,” commented Solignac. “We have another three games ahead but with this kind of confidence we are looking really strong.”
Perhaps too strong. On Tuesday after training, Head Coach John Hutchinson said the team put in another great shift in training. The session lasted just over an hour and was filled with intensity as the success in games through the week have begun to spill into training throughout the week. Players are raising their hands and putting in tough competition as many players are finding their form. Picking the Starting XI each week has never been more difficult for Coach Hutchinson but he wouldn’t have it any other way as it is a good problem to have.
El Paso Locomotive feels prepared for what challenges lie ahead in Pittsburgh. Historically, El Paso Locomotive has excelled against Eastern Conference teams. In last week’s perfect nine point swing, Locomotive claimed two 3-1 wins against Loudoun United and FC Tulsa from the East. In 2020, Locomotive remained undefeated on a 3-0-1 record after drawing against Sporting Kansas City II and claiming wins over FC Tulsa, OKC Energy FC, and Indy Eleven.
While this will be the first time El Paso and Pittsburgh Riverhounds meet in another East vs West match up, Locomotive is primed to begin another perfect week in Locomotive history.