Since its inaugural season kicked off in March, the goal for El Paso Locomotive FC was to make the playoffs.
Not only did the team accomplish what it set out to do, the Locos also outperformed the other six expansion teams that debuted in the 2019 season.
The Locomotive finished sixth in the Western Conference, and won their first playoff game by rallying from a 2-1 deficit early in the second half to score a pair of late goals in a six-minute span to stun Fresno 3-2.
Thanks to an upset win by Sacramento Republic FC over second place Reno 1868 FC, El Paso was awarded home field for the Western Conference semifinals.
On Nov. 2, the Locomotive won its first-ever home playoff game at Southwest University Park by shutting out Sacramento 3-0 in front of nearly 7,500 screaming fans.
Josué Aarón Gómez opened up the scoring in the 40th minute, but Locomotive goalkeeper Logan Ketterer shined in the second half of the match by turning away numerous Sacramento scoring chances.
A penalty kick late in the second half by Sebastian Contreras gave El Paso a two-goal lead, and five minutes later, Sebastian Velasquez finished off the Republic with a beautiful goal on a blast from the left side of the pitch.
Buzzing with 8th Notch
Over the years, I have attended many big sporting events in El Paso.
Unlike all of them, the Locomotive FC playoff match had a different feel. The stadium was buzzing throughout the contest, led by the club’s official supporter group, 8th Notch.
When Omar Salgado drew the foul by Sacramento’s Dekel Keinan in the penalty area during the 83rd minute, the fans roared in approval.
That roar became an explosion of emotion when Contreras scored the team’s second goal on a penalty kick and the Locomotive put the match out of reach.
Velasquez’s goal in the 88th minute was the icing on the cake – and the fans erupted in joy when they knew their team was advancing to the Conference Finals.
Track to the trophy
There are just four teams left in the USL Playoffs, including El Paso, which will travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, to play the Real Monarchs on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Monarchs upset Phoenix 2-1 on Nov. 1, knocking the top finisher in the Western Conference out of the playoffs.
Interestingly, both El Paso and Salt Lake City have yet to score a goal in the two regular season meetings against each other.
The winner of the match will face either Louisville City FC or Indy Eleven for the USL Championship on at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17. You can watch the match on ESPN2.
According to the fivethirtyeight.com, the Locomotive have just a 9% chance to win the USL Championship Final.
The Locomotive FC might not have the odds in their favor, but they can be the first expansion team since Sacramento Republic FC in 2014 to win the title.
The major difference is that over the last five years, USL has expanded from 14 teams to 36 clubs. That makes this playoff run far more impressive for head coach Mark Lowry and his team.
Since 1997, Steve Kaplowitz has hosted “Sportstalk” from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays on 600 ESPN El Paso. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.