It's a little refreshing playing new teams. The team we are playing this weekend, we haven't played since 2019 and that's pretty cool. It's good to see you again friends from Sacramento! Hope you've been well! I love what you have done with your kits. Welcome back to El Paso,! I hope you enjoy your stay as much as you did the last time you were here!
MATCH DETAILS: USL Championship Regular Season Game #21; vs Sacramento Republic FC; Kickoff 7:30p.m. MT // Gates Open at 6:30 p.m. MT
VENUE/WEATHER: Southwest University Park; El Paso, Texas; 97 degrees and clear skies.
TICKETS: Click Here!
WATCH: ESPN+ | El Paso – Las Cruces CW
RECORDS/STANDINGS: Locomotive: 12-2-6 (42 points, MTN-1); Sacramento: 6-7-8 (26 points, PAC-5)
PREVIOUS MEETING: To see the previous meeting between El Paso Locomotive, you have to go all the way back to 2019. On November 2 of that year, El Paso Locomotive hosted Sacramento Republic FC for the Western Conference Semifinal. Aaron Gomez kicked off the scoring in the 40th minute, heading away the freekick opportunity to the far post. Sacramento fought for an equalizer but was unable to get past Andrew Fox who headed the ball out on the goal line or Logan Ketterer who made a massive save in the 80th minute. The late-game drama of a penalty in the 82nd minute provided a simple conversion for Sebastian Contreras. For the nail in the coffin moments later, Sebastian Velasquez rifled a shot on a tight angle for the 3-0 victory to send Locomotive to its first ever Western Conference Final.
It’s really easy to bill this one as a long-awaited rematch between the two sides since the last meeting had championship implications as both sides were fighting to get to the Western Conference Final. Obviously, that match didn’t end quite the way Sacramento Republic would have liked, and certainly in favor of El Paso, and since that night these two teams have yet to meet again on the pitch. Well now it’s finally time, and while the badges and team names are the same, I find it hard to look at this one as a true rematch. The two teams are vastly different. In two years, Sacramento Republic changed out their Head Coach Simon Elliott for Mark Briggs while retaining just eight from its 24-man roster from 2019. For El Paso Locomotive in the time frame, Head Coach Mark Lowry has retained 10 players from its 24-man roster but has done nothing but strengthen the roster to create a 19-game undefeated streak at home.
These two teams look different than their 2019 counterparts, meaning this weekend’s contest could be vastly different from the Western Conference Semifinal we saw in 2019.
We talk about this every home game and for good reason. This truly is a Fortress in the Southwest desert. Including the playoff games in the 2020 postseason, El Paso Locomotive has made a grandstanding fortress of their stadium with an aforementioned 19-game undefeated streak (14-0-5) to go over one full calendar year undefeated in the Sun City. In fact, since the kickoff of the home-undefeated streak, Locomotive is now 412 days calendar days undefeated, breaking into the Top 5 of current USL Championship teams by surpassing Orange County SC (399 days). A result against Sacramento Republic on Saturday would guarantee extending that streak to 431 calendar days, to surpass the Tampa Bay Rowdies record of 426 days.
With only 12 games remaining in the 2021 regular season, every game counts to keep El Paso in the best possible standing heading into the 2021 USL Championship playoffs, and home is the best place to pick those points up.
Over the summer, Locomotive exploded to the top of the Mountain Division, using its games in hand to catch up eventually control the top seed of the division. Los Locos still have games in hand over the rest of the Mountain Division, but a momentary hiccup in an otherwise spectacular 2021 season for Locomotive has given the rest of the Division an opportunity to catch up. And that they did. El Paso is still in good standing, but the lead isn’t as comfortable – even with games in hand. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, who has played two more games than El Paso, has climbed into second place with 35 points while New Mexico United and Austin Bold have take advantage of the glitch in the Locomotive season to slightly close the gap.
It’s not as dire as it sounds. Locomotive is still 13 points clear of the playoff line, however, finishing in the top two positions of the Mountain Division guarantees a home playoff game. While El Paso used to have a 10-point clearance over its closest competitor the gap has tightened to seven. Head Coach Mark Lowry and his squad view every game as a must-win and as the club aims to hold on to its top seed.
As I said before, points are starting to count a lot more than they did in the beginning. The playoff picture is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing week. While El Paso is in a strong position now, it needs to get back into the win column to stay comfortable entering the final stretch of the 2021 USL Championship season. After 20 games, El Paso sits at the top with 42 points, currently in fifth place across the league for the coveted top seed to guarantee to host every possible playoff game up to the USL Championship final. At the top of the Mountain Division, it guarantees opening the playoff run to the trophy with a home game against the fourth place in the Pacific Division (Currently Tacoma Defiance). To keep control of its playoff destiny and hold onto that home-field advantage comfortably, El Paso Locomotive will be eager to move back into the win column.