El Paso, Texas (KTSM) – El Paso Locomotive FC will resume the 2020 USL Championship season in Group C with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, New Mexico United, and Real Monarchs SLC, the USL announced on Thursday.
Teams will be required to bus to away matches within 500 miles of travel. The only opposing club in Group C within 500 miles of El Paso, Texas, is New Mexico United, roughly 261 miles to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“We’re going to embrace that, the different set up and the different scenario of the league structure and set-up this year,” said head coach Mark Lowry. “We have to embrace it and be positive about that and try to make most of the rest of the year.”
El paso will play Group C foes United, Monarchs and Switchbacks four times each, with three remaining matches against teams from other Western Conference groups (A, B, D). The top two teams from each group will advance to the 8-team West playoffs, with the same set-up in the Eastern Conference.
“This is an unprecedented time so you have to take what you got and be the best you can and be the top of the group and make it to the playoffs,” said Locomotive FC defender Drew Beckie.
There’s some history in Group C for the Locos: a regional rivalry with United and a gut-wrenching loss to Monarchs in last year’s West final.
“I think there were like four red cards in the five games against United and Monarchs,” said goalkeeper Logan Ketterer. “If you don’t think there’s passion in those games you’re out of your mind but it’ll be exciting for sure.”
On-field execution will be key playing 12 games against three opponents, but adhering to all off-field protocols could decide even more.
“I think the challenges and the battle will really be won off the field away from the game, in terms of making sure all those other things, the travel, are done right, in an unprecedented situation and an unprecedented year,” said Lowry.
Locomotive officials have said they would like to host matches with fans at 20-25 percent capacity, but that could change as July 11 gets closer. As it stands, El paso is currently the only city in Group C, where local regulations allow for fans at sporting events.
“If that can be done and they’re spaced out enough where they’re not interacting with each other, then that would be great,” said Beckie. “I think that’s really optimistic but we’ll see. I don’t know how they’re going to do that.”
El paso is still waiting for COVID-19 test results to come back in order to return to full-sided workout. That is expected in the next few days.
USL Championship Release
The group assignments for Groups A through D ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Thursday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.
Here we look at Group C, which includes three postseason teams from a season ago – including defending USL Championship Title-winners Real Monarchs SLC – and a Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC side that has the potential for a resurgence.
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @OKC 2-1 [3/7] Head Coach: Alan Koch 2019 Season: 7-21-6, 27pts OVERVIEW: A full preseason under new Head Coach Alan Koch and a revamped squad gave everyone at Switchbacks FC a sense of confidence going into the new season, but it was the side’s 2-1 win on the road against OKC Energy FC to start the new campaign that lent credence to the idea Colorado Springs is going to be a contender this year. How that carries through to what is on paper a tough group, we’ll see, but the Switchbacks’ apparent strength might be what makes this group the hardest to predict in the West. Player to Watch: Aidan Daniels did a little bit of everything for the Switchbacks in their opening win against Energy FC, winning 9 of 13 duels, completing 24 of 28 passes and recording three chances created. If his energy level remains the same in the center of the field for Colorado Springs during this abbreviated season, the 21-year-old Canadian’s stock will rise plenty.
El Paso Locomotive FC Record: 0-0-1, 1pt | T @OC 0-0 [3/6] Head Coach: Mark Lowry 2019 Season: 13-10-11, 50pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Final OVERVIEW: Locomotive FC earned a good point on the road against Orange County SC to open its campaign and will certainly be expecting to be in the postseason for a second consecutive year as Head Coach Mark Lowry looks for growth within his squad. The big question is still where the goals are going to come from – a topic that wasn’t answered in the scoreless result in California – but the team’s overall organization is going to make it difficult to break down. Player to Watch: Dylan Mares was one of the later signings in the preseason by Locomotive FC, but the club was excited by the attacking prowess he can bring from the midfield. The last few months may have given him a chance to build more off-field chemistry with his teammates, and if he can click into place with Omar Salgado, Alexy Bosetti and Marios Lomis, things could be very bright indeed for El Paso.
New Mexico United Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @ATX 1-0 [3/7] Head Coach: Troy Lesesne 2019 Season: 11-10-13, 46pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Play-In Round OVERVIEW: The result on the road to Austin Bold FC to start the season wasn’t what New Mexico United was looking for, but there were positive signs that things were close to where they needed to be with the new arrivals in the lineup. There are going to be two key questions for the side as it moves back into action, however. First, can it hold firm defensively in a group where goals might be at a premium? Second, how will it perform without the fervent support of The Curse and the rest of United’s fans backing it at Isotopes Park? Player to Watch: Kalen Ryden social media antics have certainly endeared him to United’s supporters – and most of the rest of us – over the past three months. If he performs as well on the field as he does on TikTok, there may not be many laughs to be had for opposing forwards.
Real Monarchs SLC Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @SA 1-0 [3/7] Head Coach: Jamison Olave2019 Season: 16-10-8, 56pts; 2019 USL Championship Final Winner OVERVIEW: A road defeat marked the start of the Monarchs’ title defense, but the biggest question facing the side as it prepares to return to action is how good its depth might be early in the season. With Real Salt Lake heading to Florida with likely a sizeable contingent of players in tow for part of resumption, there could be real pressure on players like Jack Blake, Noah Powder, James Moberg and Taylor Peay to keep the Monarchs moving forward, because it feels like this is a group that’s going to be hard to play catch-up in if you fall behind. Player to Watch: Jack Blake There’s going to be a good portion of responsibility on the field on the captain’s shoulders. Knowing Blake, he’ll be looking forward to that challenge. If he and his fellow veterans can help the Monarchs’ younger players – and new arrivals like Joe Gallardo Jr. and Arturo Rodriguez – to thrive, they’ll be right in the middle of the playoff race again.