Some out there might say we are looking to bounce back into the win column (sorry about that subtweet, Nicholas). I say we never really left the win column. Sure, we might have lost against San Antonio this past weekend, but remember what happened the last time we lost a game? We went on a 10-game undefeated streak to rocket into first of the Mountain Division and challenge for the top of USL Championship. We’re still winning even when we lose! Check. Mate. While I have your attention though, we should really talk about those Power Rankings…
MATCH DETAILS: USL Championship Regular Season Game #20; at Orange County SC
VENUE/WEATHER: Championship Soccer Stadium; Irvine, California; 82 degrees and clear skies.
WATCH PARTY: Cabo Joe's ( 7942 Gateway BLVD E)
RECORDS/STANDINGS: Locomotive: 12-2-5 (41 points, MTN-1); Orange County: 8-7-6 (30 points, PAC-3)
PREVIOUS MEETING: The last time Locomotive visited Orange County SC, El Paso returned home with a point in hand after holding off the Orange County attack and recording a clean sheet on a 0-0 draw. It was a game for the goalkeepers as Marios Lomis peppered the Orange County goal with shots on target, but each one came up with big-time saves. On the other end of the field, Goalkeeper Logan Ketterer kept Orange County off the scoreboard making a multitude of massive saves, including one that was low and through the legs of Distel Zola. In the end, the two 2019 playoff teams split the points to kick off their 2020 season.
Locomotive felt the unfamiliar experience of dropping all three points for the second time this season. It was just a momentary lapse in the defense, but it was enough to allow San Antonio FC to slip a goal in at the dying breath of the game. Now it’s time for Locomotive to do what it does best: Showcase its resiliency and resolve and respond. I said it above in the opening, but the last time El Paso fell it went ten games undefeated for a record of 8-0-2. That’s 26 points. Those 26 decidedly advanced Locomotive into the top of the Mountain Division. It put Locomotive’s name into the top contender list for the apex position of the USL Championship.
“We spoke about [the loss], we hold each other accountable, and we move forward,” said Head Coach Mark Lowry after training on Tuesday. “Today, we got after it a little bit. Obviously, I don’t want the guys to feel super happy because winners don’t like losing. We’ve done a lot of winning lately so we want to get back to our winning ways and the guys have done a good job at getting back to our basics and put a good [training] session in.”
There are only 13 games left in the season, including this one against Orange County SC. With another incredible ten-game run, Locomotive can truly cement its spot in the playoff picture. Speaking of which…
It really feels like a formality at this point for Locomotive. In 19 games, El Paso Locomotive has claimed 41 points to stand at the top of the Mountain Division, 15 points above the playoff line. Still, despite the overwhelming lead, it isn’t over until it’s over and that’s exactly how Mark Lowry and the Loco Blue are looking at the final stretch of the season.
“Playoffs are not guaranteed. Until it’s mathematical, it’s not guaranteed,” said Lowry. “You have a Mountain Division with New Mexico, RGV, San Antonio, and Austin that are capable of beating any on their day – they are capable of beating us on their day. We have to remain focused on every single game each day at a time. Let’s not focus on the playoffs, let’s just focus on the next game. The next game is Orange County, let’s get three points, let’s keep that gap between us and second place intact. Until it’s mathematically possible, playoffs aren’t guaranteed, Copa Tejas is not guaranteed, none of it is guaranteed. We have to keep picking up points to make sure that it is sooner rather than later.”
For what it’s worth, Locomotive is growing increasingly close to mathematically eliminating the possibility of placing 7th in the Mountain Division. For now, though, it’s important to keep heads grounded and focusing on the next challenge, which as Coach Lowry said, is Orange County…
Courtesy of the abbreviated season in 2020, El Paso and Orange County haven’t met since before the pandemic. Locomotive traveled to Championship Soccer Stadium in March, the week before the pandemic hit full force. That match, as mentioned in the ‘Previous Meeting’ portion of this segment, ended in a scoreless draw to bring the all-time series record to 1-1-1. With this being only the fourth time the two have met each other in the last three years, Orange County feels like an unfamiliar foe much like how Indy Eleven felt earlier this season. When it comes playoff time, Locomotive will have to face off against teams it hasn’t met for a while, so this meeting with Orange County provides a unique opportunity.
“These kinds of games are important for us,” shared Forward Lucho Solignac. “It’s going to happen in playoffs as well – facing teams that we don’t usually face. So this is a great test for us and we take it that way. I know they are a team that has been doing well lately but it’s great for us to go in there without knowing much about them.”
Heading into Championship Soccer Stadium, Locomotive has yet to pull a win. Before the 2020 visit, the Boys in Blue traveled to Irvine, California in 2019, falling 2-0. The lone win in the 1-1-1 record was at Southwest University Park, where Locomotive shut down Orange County 2-0. It will be a true test for El Paso against a potential playoff opponent in somewhat unfamiliar territory.