By Chris Walker | Photo: El Paso Locomotive FC
All roads lead here, but only one road continues from here. The Western Conference Semifinals will host the 5th Edition of the Derby Del Camino Real for the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs.
Tonight’s match will not only send one winner to the Western Conference Finals but more importantly, it will determine who is the “Best in the West.”
1. 6th Meeting In 2020
New Mexico United (NMU) and El Paso Locomotive FC (ELP) have met 5 times before tonight’s match including the preseason. The preseason match was a semi-closed door friendly open to supporters from The 8th Notch. United won that match 2-1. The regular-season series is even between the sides with each having 1 win, 1 loss, and 2 draws. A total of 12 goals have been scored between these two sides with each win being decided by 1 goal.
These two sides have made strategic adjustments, revised tactics, and integrated personnel to swing the advantage. Tonight’s match will be determined by the side that commits fewer errors and converts chances.
On July 15, United and Locomotive FC deadlocked at two-a-piece. Locomotive FC leads 2-1 by half time. Chris Wehan and Devon Sandoval scores for United. Omar Salgado and Andrew Fox scored for Locomotive FC.
On July 24, United edged out Locomotive FC taking the win. United was up 2-0 by half time. Chris Wehan and Devon Sandoval each bagged a goal. Locomotive FC’s Josue Aaron Gomez split
the difference late into the match.
On September 5, Locomotive FC took the win on this day. Austin Yearwood’s (NMU) own goal made the difference in the outcome. United had a 2-1 lead by half time. David Estrada and Devon Sandoval scored for United. Macca King and Dylan Mares put Locomotive FC in the win column.
On September 26, United and Locomotive FC played to an 0-0 draw in a match that would have made the picture clear in Group C.
2. Engine, Engine No. 9
Omar Salgado (ELP) is out for the season with a torn ACL. Salgado exited the last match between these sides and it changed the complexity of the match. His biggest performance in the series is in the 3-2 win over United. Salgado had 4 shots, created 4 chances, and 1 assist. He has 7 shots overall. You can not deny Salgado’s presence in the matches. He brings a high level of physicality to the pitch. At 6 ft. 4 in., Salgado has a tall stature with phantom pace. He draws double teams, which causes the backline to breakdown.
Without Salgado, Locomotive FC is a different side. In their last match against Tulsa, Leandro Carrijo was sitting up top in their “Christmas Tree” formation with Dylan Mares and Gomez sitting underneath. On breaks, Gomez streaks towards the left lane from the right side of the pitch to play as Salgado does to serve the cross to the centre for an awaiting Carrijo or Mares.
3. Superior Style of Play
United’s High Press comes in different intervals throughout the match. It creates confusion and disrupts the backline. It’s one way United intends to control the match this evening and keep the ball out of the air. This will lead to United dispossessing Locomotive in the middle third. When United is on the attack, the players are patient in setting up their opportunity for a strike. This side takes fewer shots and makes the ones taken more purposeful. So they rich shooting accuracy.
Locomotive FC wants to get into dangerous spaces crossing passes from its backline overhead to its attacking third. To do this it must break down its opponent in the middle of the pitch. This will lead to getting bodies behind the backline for shots on goal. Locomotive operates on the idea that the more shots, there’s bound to be more goals. This has t been the case and by the end of the night, Locomotive will register a 15 percent shooting accuracy. Any shot can be dangerous if a foot connects with it.
Ultimately, the side that wins tonight has a superior style of play.
United looked dangerous the first two matches and El Paso took some of that edge from them in the last two matches.
4. Site Neutrality at The SWUP
Locomotive has hosted all of the regular season matches at Southwestern University Park (SWUP) and United has earned points from 3 of 4 matches that took place there. Since all of United’s matches have been on the road, their frame of mind has shifted and their success rate of nabbing points on the road has fueled the campaign. The SWUP is just as much New Mexico’s as it is El Paso’s in tonight’s bout.
How much will the fans play a factor in tonight’s matchup, if any?
5. Form Goes Out With This One
Preparation stays in place. New Mexico and El Paso have trained all week for each other. The true test tonight for each side will be sticking to the game plan. El Paso needs to make some big moves in Salgado’s absence. New Mexico cannot take them lightly. Expect this one to be physically, mentally, and emotionally tough on both sides with their season on the line. There have been red cards, tons of yellows, penalty kicks, and altercations. At some point, one would expect the players to dictate the outcome by their skills and athleticism.
El Paso is unbeaten in its last 12 matches. New Mexico is unbeaten in its last 3 matches winning its match against San Antonio FC 1-0 in added extra time. El Paso drew 2-2 with FC Tulsa forcing penalty kicks to determine a winner.
A winner will be decided tonight when all is said and done.