Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Locomotive FC
Following the 2-1 against FC Tulsa on Saturday, El Paso Locomotive has officially booked its ticket to the 2021 USL Championship Post Season. With five games remaining in the season and at the top of the Mountain Division with a game in hand, the Boys in Blue have put themselves in a prime position to claim the Mountain Division and make an incredible run towards the USL Championship Final. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.
As I said, there are still five games left to be played, and they will not be easy games. Thankfully, Locomotive three of the five games will be played at Southwest University Park where the Locos have not lost a single game all season. Two of the games however will be against unfamiliar opponents and one will be against a team that has served just one of two losses.
While Head Coach and Technical Director Mark Lowry and his men have guaranteed a playoff spot, they still have their work cut out for them as they close down the regular season with the hopes of being momentum with them into the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at what lies ahead in the final stretch of games before the playoff run begins.
Of every team in the Mountain Division, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC is the one team that Los Locos have yet to beat in 2021. Ironically, El Paso has also never lost a game to their northern opponent after nine meetings since 2019. It’s going to be a tough fight at Southwest University Park, with a tale that’s been told through the entirety of this season: The irresistible force vs the immovable object. Colorado Springs Switchbacks has had an offense that has completely dismantled other teams. Thankfully, Locomotive isn’t other teams. The Sun City club has had one of the most indomitable defenses across the entire league with 11 clean sheets and only conceding 23 goals across 27 matches.
As if determining what’s better, Switchbacks’ offense or the Locomotive defense, wasn’t enough, this match carries major playoff implications as well. A win or a draw for Locomotive would guarantee a home playoff game with four games remaining in the regular season, meaning Locomotive can let out of a breath of relief as they use the remaining four to claim the Mountain Division. Switchbacks, however, are fighting with San Antonio FC for second place in the Division and a win over Locomotive FC would be a massive statement in Colorado Springs’ stake to the spot.
LA Galaxy II has been a dark horse in the Pacific Division through the 2021 Season. A team that most of the league and written off to finish bottom rung of their division is now proving the naysayers wrong by being a serious contender for a playoff position. With a game in hand over its surrounding competition, Los Dos is currently holding on to the fourth playoff spot. This match – set to be played a Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California – could be a preview of the USL Championship Western Conference Quarterfinal. Should the table standings hold up to the end of the season, El Paso Locomotive would welcome Galaxy II to Southwest University Park for the opening round of the playoffs.
Historically, Locomotive and Galaxy II have only met twice – back in 2019. Locomotive defiantly took the 3-0 win a Southwest University Park, but fell 2-0 the last - and only - time they visited Dignity Health Sports Park. Considering LA Galaxy II downed the Pacific Division run-away leader, Phoenix Rising, just a couple of weeks ago, Locomotive will be in for a fight when they visit on Saturday. LA Galaxy II will be fighting to hold on to their playoff spot, seeking crucial points against the Mountain Division leader. Locomotive on the other hand will still be seeking to put the Mountain Division to bed by securing the top seed.
One of the problems with playing teams around the playoff line is that they have so much to play for, with everything to lose. Teams like Austin Bold FC are currently just a point above the playoff line over New Mexico United. They have a game in hand, but with so few games in the season and the form both teams have been in, the final playoff spot is going to come down to the wire, especially when you consider Rio Grande Valley is also in that mix just two points below Austin. Now, don’t get me wrong, Locomotive will still definitely have something to desperately fight for as well. Following the opening round in the playoffs, home field advantage is awarded to whichever team earned more points through the regular season. When I say every point counts heading into the end of the season, I really do mean every single point.
Still, throughout the 2021 season, Locomotive has been successful against Bold FC. The two games on the road at Bold Stadium were slow and narrow matches ending 1-0 in favor of Los Locos and 2-2 following a late stoppage-time goal from the Austin side. Still in the one match played so far at Southwest University Park, the Locos emphatically won 3-0. In fact, El Paso has never lost to their Austin counterparts. After five games across 2019 and 2021 so far, Locomotive controls the regular-season series 2-0-3. This doesn’t mean Locomotive can rest easy though. Austin Bold likes to hold possession and break meticulously look for weak points in the defense to break into. El Paso’s defensive shape will have to hold firm to keep Austin off the scoreboard.
The Regular Season home finale. The entire home campaign culminates here, and it will all be broadcast nationally on ESPN Deportes. If things continue to shape up in the final couple of weeks as they are right now, it will be an enticing game for the national stage. El Paso Locomotive will be looking to add more points to its total, trying to ensure as many home playoff games as possible. OKC Energy FC falls into the same storyline as the last two teams: Fighting to book a ticket to the playoffs among fierce competition. As of writing this, OKC Energy FC currently sits below the playoff line by two points. Their problem is, they only have three games left, and this is one of them. Memphis, OKC’s team to beat, has two games in hand. It’s an uphill climb for the Energy as they will need results to go their way and practically win out in their final three games in order to chase the coveted USL Championship title.
Now, March of 2019 was a very long time ago. Both clubs are completely different than they were back then, but that was the last time OKC Energy FC ever visited Southwest University Park. I’m not going to relive the El Paso Locomotive’s inaugural match, but that game paired with the 1-1 draw later in the year at Taft Stadium means Los Locos have never beat the Energy. There certainly isn’t enough history in this series to definitely say that OKC has El Paso’s number and, like I said, 2019 was a very long time ago. This is an opportunity for El Paso to right some wrongs and put themselves in control of the head-to-head series.
This is where it ends. After 31 games to secure a playoff spot and fight for the pinnacle position in the Mountain Division, the 2021 USL Championship Regular season concludes with Locomotive vs Rio Grande Valley FC at H-E-B Park. It almost feels fitting. The last time El Paso visited its Texas rival in the Southeast, Locomotive fell for the first time in the season, putting to end an incredible club-historic 18-game undefeated streak. The final regular-season match is an opportunity for El Paso Locomotive to right that wrong at H-E-B Park and claim three points over RGV.
The two clubs are in vastly different positions than they were back at the start of the season. Early in the season, Locomotive was dancing around the playoff line as the El Paso side played fewer games than the other teams in the Mountain Division. At the same time, Rio Grande Valley FC was dominating the Division, running away at the start with a dominating performance. The two have since flipped as Locomotive began playing games regularly. El Paso took the top spot of the Mountain and has not let go of the position since. Meanwhile, RGVFC has fallen from grace, taking a bottom rung upheld by only Real Monarchs. Still despite the loss earlier in the season, Locomotive dominates the regular-season series between the two, 3-2-1. If things continue as they are, RGV could still have a last-ditch effort to end above the playoff line, meaning they will be giving El Paso everything to end above the red line at the end of the season.
There isn’t a single match that will be easy for Locomotive in the final five. The Sun City club needs to stay at the top of their game just as they have been through the entirety of the 2021 USL Championship season. The playoffs are just around the corner and Locomotive is setting up for another incredible run through the post-season.
As Coach Lowry has said throughout the season, the fans play a crucial role in what the players produce on the field. The supporters give a breath of life and energy to every Locos player. With only a few games left in the season, don’t miss a beat and help support the Boys in Blue in their last three remaining home games as they push for a top spot in the playoffs. Tickets are available for purchase online at eplocomotivefc.com/tickets, by phone at 915-235-GOAL, or through the official El Paso Locomotive FC App.
See you at Southwest University Park!
Tag(s): Club News