Man on the Pitch: Locomotive FC Preview

By J.J. Buck

New Mexico United at El Paso Locomotive F.C., Wednesday July 15th. Kick-off 7 p.m. 

New Mexico Untied returned to play with a 2-1 victory last Saturday at Colorado Springs and it wouldn’t have been a United game without a little bit of controversy. In the 79′ Switchbacks FC forward, Austin Dewing, slid a well timed through ball to the foot of George Lebese who beat goal keeper Cody Mizell. However, the flag went up for offside nullifying the go ahead goal. Whichever color you were supporting that day is where you came down on the call. A game of inches. With no video assistant refereeing available in the USL Championship the call became an even more painful for the Switchbacks when Chris Wehan scored the game wining goal in the 87′.

If you haven’t seen Saalih Muhammad’s goal of he season entry give it a watch and return to reading this once you pick your jaw up off the floor. The wow moment was answered just before the half as Adian Daniels sent a rocket past Mizell. A deserved equalizer for the Switchbacks.

“I thought we were fantastic going forward and really dangerous,” United head coach Troy Lesesne said of the teams first 15 minuets against Colorado Springs while on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

United did have a five-to-one advantage when it came to shots on target, but that did not come with a lack of pressure from Colorado Springs.

“We were extremely sound defensively,” Lesesne said as he praised his teams effort against the Switchbacks attack adding, “our back line was so sound. Last season, that ends in a draw or a loss. I can say that confidently and that’s us trying to reflect on where we needed to improve.”

That’s the difference Lesesne and the fans want to see in year two; finding a way to finish games late to earn three points.

Center back Kalen Ryden, who was mentioned by Lesesne as a player that will help instill confidence in the defense to grind out games, described on the conference call what it took to find the finish line Saturday, “We knew that all of us weren’t going to be perfectly fit for this first game and that’s why it was so important for us to battle and put our heart and passion on the line to make sure we got those three points.”

Group C Standings

(Played – W – L – T – GD – PTS)

  1. El Paso                       2, 1-0-1, +1, 4pts.
  2. Colorado Springs        2, 1-1-0, 0, 3pts
  3. New Mexico                2, 1-1-0, 0, 3pts
  4. Real Monarchs SLC   2, 0-2-0, -2, 0pts

El Paso Locomotive FC

Last years Western Conference runners up were southwest expansion darlings along with New Mexico. Finishing in sixth place they put together a post season run which ended with a 2-1 loss to Real Monarchs in the Western Conference Finals.

El Paso played a scoreless draw against Orange County SC in their opener and returned to play last Saturday with a 1-0 victory at home over Rio Grande Valley FC. The first half saw chances go to the visitors who created them off set pieces. Locomotive would settle into possession, of which they dominated 65%-to-34%, leading to their 83′ winner. A couple of exceptional touches set up midfielder Dylan Mares goal. A low shot that beat the keeper to his right from around the penalty spot.

The challenge for United will be trying to break El Paso’s rhythm. They completed 83% of their passes against RGV working the ball patently from the back. The possession led to pressure as they put six of their 13 shots on goal and the Toros were credited with 33 clearances.

Locomotive head coach Mark Lowry liked what he saw from his squad as he was quoted on the teams website saying, “I was amazed by how good the guys were, to be honest considering we haven’t played for four months and we haven’t been able to train for three of those months properly with the shutdown,”

The teams leading goal scorer from last season, Jerome Kiesewtter (12 goals), signed with expansion side Inter Miami FC of Major League Soccer. Their second leading assist man from last season, Omar Salgado (seven assists), was suspended against RGV and will be available to return Wednesday.

EL Paso’s lineup and formation against RGV.

The 4-1-2-1-2 formation selected by Lowry was led by (#14) Mario Lomis and (#26) Aaron Gomez. Lomis is a 6-foot-2 attacker who joined this past off-season from North Carolina FC where he scored seven goals last year. Gomez found the back of the net eight times for El Paso in 2019 and continues on loan from FC Juarez. The return of (#9) Salgado boosts their attack along with the addition of veteran striker Leandro Carrijo. The 6-foot-2 Brazilian joined the team this week from FC Juarez. The 34-year-old scored 73 goals in 102 appearances with Juarez.

The midfield is anchored by your classic holding center-mid, (#24) Yuma. The veteran from Spain had a 70-percent success rate with tackles last season and completed 90-percent of his passes. The wings featured El Paso native (#26) Louis “Chapa” Herrera and (#8) Nick Ross. Herrera is a player El Paso hopes breaks out this season and Ross fits right into their style of play with a high passing success rate (31 chances created last year). Signed this off-season from Miami FC, (#7) Mares, showed his finishing ability as he’ll be asked to open up the attack with Salgado.

Standing tall on the Locomotive back line is their Belgian center back (#3) Chiro N’toko. In just 28 starts last season the 32-year-old led the team in clearances (120) and pass completion percentage (91.5). Drew Beckie (#2) started opposite N’toko against RGV giving Lowry a pair of 6-foot-2 CB’s. The player to watch is (#4) Mechack Jerome. His right leg can turn any free kick past the center line into an uneasy experience for a goal keeper.

Options at full back include (#25) Bryam Rebellon, (#19) Andrew Fox and (#23) Moses Makinde. Rebellon created 24 chances last season (fourth most among returning players) and Fox led the team in forward passes (672).They are a modern FB combo looking to spark the attack.

Logan Ketterer is the teams first choice keeper. He already has two clean sheets to his record this season after being a part of 13 last year.

Now it Makes Sense

When the starting lineup was announced for New Mexico last Saturday it looked very defensive on paper. It was posted as the expected 4-2-3-1 with David Najem starting on the left wing. Watching how the game played out and seeing the post match page, it clicked; United played more of a 3-4-3 featuring Najem and Manny Padilla as wing backs.

What does that mean? It means Austin Yearwood, who is more defensive mined as a full back, played outside center back in a three man back line along with Ryden and Sam Hamilton. That allowed for a lot of space up top for attacking wingers, Amando Moreno and Chris Wehan, to fill and make runs off Devon Sandoval. That’s where the wing backs ability to push forward comes into play.

(All touches for NM are shown left-to-right for the full game.)

The photo above helps illustrate the roll of the wing backs. The dots are touches on the ball in the game from Najem and Padilla. This shows you how advanced they got past the center line which gives them the option to play a cross into box or towards a forward, feed the middle or pass and make a run down the wing. This aided the attack with just three true attacking players in the starting lineup.

Chris Wehan was one of three players on the conference call and referenced the runs he made with Moreno and expressed how eager he is to see the teams attack grow.

“We’re going to find goals in all sorts of different ways this year, set pieces, all of us across the front three are going to score goals,” Wehan said noting, “there were moments where we were just off on the final ball.”

Execution will be key against a squad that wants to do the same thing as United; be patient with he ball and pass players open with quality balls. Sandoval does give United an option to play long passes to as his physicality and touch makes him a quality target forward.

How much pressing will we see? That’s something that could get either team out of their preferred style and would be initiated by the  attacking players.

Even with starting five defenders on Saturday, New Mexico was without three defenders due to injury; Rashid Tetteh, Justin Schmidt and Josh Suggs. Lesesne said Suggs was the closest of the three to returning, but did not say if any of the three would travel to El Paso. He did say forward Joris Ahlinvi will be with the team.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see various formations deployed and multiple starting lineups from United this season to match opponents. Especially with the focus put into the game plan from United’s coaches.

“Our coaching staff prepared us really well for that game (Colorado Springs),” said Wehan as he shared what that meant for him, “where we were going to find space and where we were going to find areas to get in on the attack.”

Padilla Suspended

Tuesday afternoon United released a statement on social media stating they had been made aware of sexual assault allegations made against Many Padilla while he was at the University of San Francisco. The team said they will conduct an internal investigation and while that is going on Padilla will be suspended from team activities. Padilla played soccer at USF from 2014-to-2017.

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