Coach Mark Lowry and his El Paso Locomotive FC team are just two games away from possibly delivering a championship – and a trainload of pride – to the Sun City.
Formed just two years ago, the Locomotive is on its second magical run in the United Soccer League playoffs. The team was to hit the road Saturday, Oct. 24 to face Phoenix Rising FC, which defeated the Locomotive 3-1 in early August.
If El Paso can upset Phoenix, arguably the best soccer club in the USL, and advance to the championship, it would again play on the road against either the Tampa Bay Rowdies or Louisville City.
This standing comes after the Locomotive was victorious in its last two postseason games, winning penalty kick shootouts against FC Tulsa and New Mexico United in front capacity crowds of 1,600 fans.
Building the roster
The ride started when Lowry built his roster for the 2020 USL season by reducing the club’s size to concentrate on quality over quantity.
He brought back the majority of players from the inaugural season, but added veterans to key positions that had lacked depth.
You can argue that newcomer Dylan Mares has been the club’s Most Valuable Player this season, since he has sparked the team with timely goals and assists from his midfield position.
Fellow newcomer Macauley King has also been a big addition to the club.
Defender Mechak Jerome has returned to full strength from a bad ankle injury he suffered last season, and his solid play on the backline has also been a big factor in the team’s success heading into the playoffs.
Goalkeeper Logan Ketterer posted 11 clean sheets during the regular season and a pair of huge penalty kick saves in both playoff wins. He deserves strong consideration for the USL Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Lowry also signed two veterans that both had terrific careers in Mexico playing for FC Juárez.
Defender Eder Borelli and center forward Leandro Carrijo have become playoff fixtures in the lineup for Locomotive FC.
Borelli has helped solidify the back line after injuries to Chiro and Andrew Fox, while Carrijo has had the tough task to replace El Pasoan Omar Salgado.
The local fan favorite tore his ACL in a late season match to NM United, and the 35-year-old former FC Juárez striker was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup.
Since Carrijo has always played in the middle as a striker, Lowry changed his team’s makeup to better suit his veteran forward. Carrijo scored the first two goals of his Locomotive career against Tulsa. His finishing ability will be crucial if the club has a chance to win the USL Championship.
The team advanced to the Western Conference Championship after an 11-match unbeaten stretch in the regular season. That was thanks to nine consecutive penalty kicks without a miss against both FC Tulsa and New Mexico United.
What made the NMU victory even more special was that the club from Albuquerque is El Paso’s biggest rival. The two teams came into the USL at the same time as expansion clubs and both fan bases have quickly developed a strong dislike for each other.
Despite injuries, Locomotive FC has a ton of resilience and fight left in it to deliver that championship to El Paso.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at email@example.com. His column appears periodically in El Paso Inc.’s B-Section.