For the fourth and final time of the 2021 regular season, New Mexico United and El Paso Locomotive FC face off for control of the Rio Grande. The three prior meetings have resulted in two draws and a loss for United.
The final matchup between the two rivals is the biggest match of the year to this point for United. After not playing since the first of August, United has seen their position in the table slide from third to sixth. With half of the season still to play, there’s time for United to turn that around and a win against El Paso would be a giant step in the right direction.
El Paso’s ascent to the top of the table has been extraordinary. They’ve still only lost one match all season and have won four of their last five. Mark Lowry’s club has been the hottest in the league, and the emergence of Diego Luna has been a big part of that. While he doesn’t have the most shots taken for the club, he’s been efficient. Of his 18 total shots, 11 have been on target, with 5 of them finding the back of the net.
Defensively, El Paso has been sound all season. Their efforts have resulted in eight clean sheets and only ten goals allowed. United will have their work cut out for them if they want to earn three points on Saturday night.
Player to Watch
Luis Solignac – The leading scorer for the Locomotive through the first half of the season, Solignac is a key target in the final third. Not only is he dangerous himself, but the attention he draws from elsewhere on the pitch opens up options for other players, like Luna.
New Mexico United returns to the pitch for the first time in two weeks as they celebrate Meow Wolf night. The club and their supporters are all hoping that the celebratory mood will help propel them to their first win in a month. The last time that United was able to take all three points in a match was on July 12 against Charleston Battery. Since that win, United has been held goalless, a trend that needs to change in a hurry.
That task will be especially hard against El Paso. Not only has United been struggling with their shot selection, but they also haven’t consistently put their efforts on target. Some of those issues have been due to a lack of creativity through the middle of the pitch and United relying primarily on playing from wide positions. While the club has players who are more than capable of crossing the ball in, the creativity needs to come from more areas to open space in the attacking third.
Recent signing David Najem should be able to help with some of those issues. Not only can Najem play out wide, but he’s also capable of driving into the middle of the pitch. Both of those skill sets will be useful against an El Paso defense that can be very hard to penetrate.
Player to Watch
Kalen Ryden – Despite his inconsistency at the back this season, Kalen remains a top-tier choice for the defensive third. He’ll need to take command of the back and help organize a defensive effort good enough to stop the Locomotive from getting free chances on goal.
Saturday night’s match is scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. (MDT) from The Lab. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+. Supporters not in attendance can listen to the match live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, and The TEAM website.