EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – El Paso Locomotive FC have a flair for the dramatic.
For the second week in a row, Locomotive FC needed penalties to advance in the USL’s Western Conference playoffs, upending rival New Mexico United 1-1 (5-3) in Saturday night’s Conference Semifinals to advance to the club’s second consecutive Western Conference Final.
The victory extended El Paso’s unbeaten streak to 13 matches, dating back to a loss on Aug. 1 at Phoenix Rising.
Perhaps its serendipity, then, that El Paso will play at Phoenix Rising FC in next week’s conference title match looking to punch a ticket to the USL Championship Final against either Louisville FC or Tampa Bay Rowdies. Rising also needed penalties to advance past Reno 1868, doing so 2-2 (5-4) on the road.
“The guys were superb tonight,” head coach Mark Lowry said. “Once it went to penalties, I had faith in us again.”
Locomotive FC were dominant early on against United in the fifth edition of the Derby del Camino Real of 2020. El Paso peppered New Mexico goalkeeper Cody Mizell with multiple shots, before finally breaking through in the 30th minute.
Dylan Mares collected a pass from Josue Aaron Gomez just outside the 18-yard box, took a pair of dribbles and unleashed a curling strike into the top right corner of the net to give El Paso a 1-0 lead into the halftime locker room.
The second half was much more defensive for El Paso, but New Mexico was unable to collect a shot on goal through 90 minutes of play. But, in the fifth of six minutes of stoppage time, United were saved by Romeo Parkes, who sent a shot from 25 yards out past a diving Logan Ketterer to send the match into extra time.
“He hasn’t done that all season. It’s a one-off strike that he got tonight and he hit it and it went in, but the guys did nothing wrong,” said Lowry.
El Paso had subbed out its top three attacking players in Gomez, Mares and Leandro Carrijo late in the second half to adopt a more defensive approach, leaving themselves in a tough position in the 30 minutes of extra time. Both sides had multiple chances to put a winner into the back of the net, but it wasn’t to be, and for the second week in a row for both clubs, the match went to penalties.
Eder Borelli led things off for El Paso by netting his attempt, while Devon Sandoval did the same for United. Nick Ross, Chris Wehan, Richie Ryan and Kalen Ryden were also all true from the spot, and penalties were tied at 3 after three attempts.
In round four, Saeed Robinson connected for El Paso, setting up a rematch between Parkes and Ketterer. This time, Ketterer got the best of Parkes, saving the kick and sending Southwest University Park into a frenzy.
“It’s exciting, and it feels good,” Ketterer said. “(A few years back) in Columbus I didn’t come through and its exciting that I got a chance at redemption in back-to-back weeks.”
From there, it was left to Distel Zola, who came on in extra time. Zola beat Mizell, to send Locomotive into the West finals. Lowry said that Zola was fantastic with penalties all week in preparation for the match.
“It’s been a weird season, but we’re in the Western Conference Finals. Twice in two years,” Lowry said. “If you had offered that to any of us before the season, we would have snapped your hand off.”
Now, El Paso can turn its attention to the last team that beat them: Phoenix Rising in the Western Conference Finals.
“We’re really excited to be back. We have a huge chip on our shoulder from losing there last year and we’re excited to get a chance at redemption there,” Ketterer said. “Phoenix will be no joke, but we can’t wait to get it on.”
El Paso and Phoenix will square off in the Western Conference Finals on Saturday, Oct. 24, in Phoenix. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. MT and can be seen on ESPN+