Locos Return

The El Paso Locomotive FC play at Southwest University Park with only cardboard cutouts as fans.

Imagine being the only game in town. 

That is what it is like for El Paso Locomotive FC. 

The second division club in the United Soccer League’s Western Conference has the entire local sports market to itself for at least the next six weeks. That’s because Minor League Baseball was forced to cancel their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving El Paso Chihuahuas fans with no Triple-A baseball at Southwest University Park until April 2021 – at the earliest.

The UTEP football season is supposed to start on Sept. 5 when the Miners host Texas Tech.

However, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announcing that they will only play conference football games in the fall (or spring), the Big 12 should decide by the end of July if they will do the same for their teams.

Since UTEP plays their season opener at home against the Red Raiders and then face the Texas Longhorns in Austin two weeks later, the Miners would suffer multimillion-dollar losses if those games are canceled.

It also looks like the high school football season will not start until late September. The El Paso Rhinos do not usually begin their season until October.

That leaves the Locomotive as the city’s lone sports team playing games at this moment. The team made a successful return to the pitch July 11, blanking Rio Grande Valley FC by a score of 1-0. 

Head coach Mark Lowry is thrilled with his club’s two clean sheets to start off the 2020 season, and he knows that every match is important.

The USL’s revised regular season is only 16 games and the Locomotive currently have five points in their first three contests to occupy first place in Group C of the USL’s Western Conference.  

The team will play another 11 matches against their Group C opponents, consisting of either New Mexico United, Colorado Springs Switchbacks or Real Monarchs SL. 

Although fans were hoping to attend the first two home matches at Southwest University Park, the club decided to keep the stadium empty to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It was a little strange for Lowry and his team to play at home in an empty stadium, although the Locomotive did set up a program for fans to pay $35 for a cardboard likeness that is placed on a seat for every home match. 

Money from the Cardboard Conductors program goes to various COVID-19 relief funds. Fans can pick up their cutout after the season.

The Locomotive FC and FC Juárez are both owned by MountainStar Sports Group, which has already paid huge dividends for the USL Club. 

FC Juárez loaned Aaron Gomez to the Locomotive during its 2019 inaugural campaign, and he quickly became one of the club’s most valuable players by the end of the season and into the playoffs. 

Most recently, two former FC Juárez stars signed contracts to play with Locomotive FC. Former captain Éder Borelli will help solidify El Paso’s back four, while forward Leandro Carrijo was Los Bravos’ all-time career goal scorer with 73 in only 102 matches. 

Borelli and Carrijo are both a few weeks away from seeing action, but they will give an already stacked Locomotive roster even more excitement once they join Lowry’s rotation. 

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Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at skaplowitz@krod.com.

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Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at skaplowitz@krod.com.

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