Coming off of the first win in the Eric Quill era, New Mexico United is looking to stop the streaking Locomotive on their home pitch. It may be the toughest match of the season, as El Paso has surprised most of the pundits with their success this season.
Most of the media around the USL Championship didn’t expect much out of El Paso this season. Another coaching change and the loss of several key players left many wondering what the Locomotive could accomplish this season. At the beginning of the season, their results leaned into that line of thought when they lost three consecutive matches. Since then they’ve rattled off twelve unbeaten and rocketed to the top of the Western Conference.
The problem with El Paso’s run has oddly enough been their home form. On the road, they’ve been unbeatable. At home, however, is where they’ve been the most vulnerable. Of the sixteen goals conceded this year, eight of them have been on their home turf. Early on, El Paso struggled with clubs that liked to play direct and couldn’t handle that dynamic of play. But, since those first three matches, something changed, most likely just a better understanding of the system they were expected to play. Pair that with some luck and you end up with the run they’ve been on.
El Paso has always been a tough match for United and there is no love lost between the two clubs. It remains to be seen if Yuma will be available for this match after missing the first one due to an injury. If he does, El Paso’s chances of extending their streak increase due to his ability to affect play at both ends of the pitch. United has done better in recent matches in controlling his antics and not allowing him to have a direct impact on the match outcome. They’ll need to do the same on Saturday if they hope to slow down their rivals.
Player to Watch
Luis Solignac – As in the first match between the rivals this year, Solignac will be the key man. He was a difficult player to manage in the first match as the other Locos around him were looking to feed him the ball throughout the match. They will attempt to do the same, but a healthy centreback duo may be able to keep him in check.
While the Eric Quill era didn’t start off with the typical new-manager bounce to this point in terms of results, the play on the pitch has been far more exciting. Supporters are buzzing and there’s an extra pep in the step of United’s players.
In his weekly Monday segment on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, United CEO and Owner Peter Trevisani was full of praise for Coach Quill and the team. “He’s a fierce competitor. He demands a lot out of the players and gives even more. He’s bought into the team and there’s buy-in, in return.”
They’ve seemed far more energetic and the different looks have given the supporters a lot to cheer about. Particularly the play of Daniel Bruce. Given the chance to play at centreforward, the Englishman has delighted the crowds with his energy and drive on and off the ball. His inclusion at the nine role proved to be difficult for Colorado Springs to handle and gave opponents other things to worry about going forward.
Defensively, United still struggles at the back, which is somewhat surprising given the number of veteran players on the roster. While part of the issue has been the number of injuries sustained by the backline, there have been a few questionable decisions that led to turnovers in poor areas. It hasn’t been as prominent of an issue as in past seasons, but the concern is still there. United’s play at the back has helped lead to the fact that they only have one clean sheet on the season, which came back in the opener. Against El Paso, United will need to have their best defensive effort of the season if they want a win at Southwest University Park.
In speaking to Andy Hageman on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM after the match against Colorado Springs, Coach Quill was quick to praise the defensive efforts. “We hung on. Hopefully, it gives us life to know what it’s like to hang on in those last few minutes and get a win.”
Player to Watch
Kalen Ryden – Even though he gave up an own goal against Colorado Springs, Ryden had a stellar night in front of the home crowd. He’ll likely be called upon frequently against Solignac and El Paso. He will need to mark Solignac closely in order to keep him from getting chances on goal. His leadership and vision on the pitch could be the difference in the match.
Saturday night’s match between New Mexico United and El Paso Locomotive FC will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM. The station’s coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. (MT) with Adam Diehl and Andy Hageman on the pre-game show. The pair will also call every minute of every play when the match starts at 7:30 p.m. The broadcast can be heard on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM The TEAM, via The TEAM website, and The TEAM apps.