EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – This weekend marks the first true challenge for a completely revitalized El Paso Locomotive FC squad as the 2022 USL Championship season kicks off across the nation. El Paso Locomotive FC finds itself opening the season on the road for the second time in its four-year history, traveling to sunny California to take on Sacramento Republic FC for the fifth time in all competitions. If there is one thing for certain, the squad is ready to dive into the season.
After a long preseason, the players are happy to have points on the line going into the 90-minute clash on the weekend. The 22 players on the squad and 10 USL Academy players signed to Academy contracts are eager to get back to playing in stadiums in front of fans as opposed to empty training fields.
All eyes are on California and the team is hoping to start the season off strong. Historically, El Paso Locomotive FC has seen nothing but success against its Sacramento counterparts. The two have met three times in the regular season, and once in the 2019 Western Conference Semifinal. The Locos have never lost points to the Republic, decidedly leading the all-time series on a 4-0-0 record.
Republic has certainly improved their squad over the offseason as well. Signing the likes of former Locomotive midfielder Nick Ross, 2019 USL Championship Title-winner and former Real Salt Lake man Douglas Martinez, and RGV standout Rodrigo López.
History and new signings aside, however, the new man-in-charge of Locomotive, Head Coach John Hutchinson has emphasized that the team isn’t focusing too much on the opposition.
“We’ve looked at [Sacramento Republic] and they’re a good team. They’ve recruited well,” said Hutchinson, post-training on Tuesday. “We expect a tough game going away from home, but it’s about what we do. It’s how we play. How are we going to bring our game to them?”
The first road trip of the season is going to provide a good challenge for the players and will show everyone who the Locos will be as a club and what the squad wants to bring to the table this season. Since the team has come together in late January, Coach Hutchinson has laid down the foundation for the kind of soccer that Locomotive will bring.
“Scoring goals is obviously the key to football, but it’s more than just scoring goals,” continued Hutchinson. “It’s about our attacking brand of football that we want to bring. We want to be aggressive without the ball. We are going to press really high. We are going to be what you might start calling at times a bit reckless, but that’s how I like my football. It’s fast and furious.”
Certainly, this year will be a departure from what fans have come to expect under the Mark Lowry era, but Hutchinson is hopeful that this new look from the Locos will open the field for the talent on the roster. With the high-pressing aggressive style from the entire squad, the Locomotive coaching staff is hopeful that it will allow attacking players such as Diego Luna, Sebastian Velasquez, Emmanuel Sonupe, Christiano Francois, and Lucho Solignac to express themselves on the field and show why they are the best attackers in the Championship.
With a new style of play, and an admittedly bumpy preseason that has seen new players trickle in as they have been able to travel to the United States, Coach Hutchinson stays realistic, realizing that there is still work to do before the club is where they want to be.
“It’s a process,” started Hutchinson. “Harry Brockbank turned up last Thursday, trained Friday, and was playing Saturday, and all of sudden I’m telling him to do this, this, and this, and he is looking at me like ‘are you crazy?’ Emmanuel Sonupe and [Christiano] Francois were a little bit late, [Martín] Payares was a little bit late. It’s just a process and our football will keep growing all year.”
The foundation of that process is found in team cohesion and chemistry. While players have been slowly arriving in El Paso throughout preseason, chemistry and familiarity amongst the team have been building. While the level of competition against San Antonio in the final preseason match wasn’t what Coach Hutchinson and his team were hoping for, they weren’t disappointed.
The 7-0 win over San Antonio was more than just the squad playing dynamic, aggressive soccer, it was the first time the entire squad traveled together. As a full squad, the team ate meals together, attended team meetings together, and traveled together.
“It’s hard, you know?” began Diego Luna. “A lot of guys coming in from all different areas and different countries. It’s hard to understand each other and know how people move and play. Once you create a little bond off the field it helps with the chemistry on the field. Throughout training, there are all sorts of little things we do like banter, talking, and having fun, but a lot of bonding has been done off the field. We go out to dinners have little team events like paintball, we’ve just bonded, and chemistry is very important.”
The season kicks off tomorrow. The principles of a new foundation is set and the team has prepared. Throughout its first three years, El Paso Locomotive has seen little success in season openers (0-1-2, 2 points), however, the team has prepped for the first 90-minute game on the weekend and is eager and excited to show what they can bring to the field.
Fans can watch the game live on ESPN+ when it kicks off at 8:00 p.m. MT from Heart Health Park in Sacramento, California. El Paso Locomotive FC will also be hosting an official watch party in El Paso at the Union Drafthouse at Cimarron Plaza.