An off-ball clash between New Mexico's Santi Moar and El Paso's Yuma summed up a fiery first meeting between the two expansion sides. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In this week’s edition of Wednesday Night Soccer, El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United will renew their budding regional rivalry at Isotopes Park (9 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN3) with both teams looking to build on what have been impressive inaugural campaigns to this point.
The expansion sides enter the clash occupying top-six positions in the Western Conference standings – which would see them avoid the play-in round if the season ended today – but have faltered a little bit of late with each side winning just one of its last seven games in league play.
Before Locomotive FC makes the nearly four-hour drive north on I-25 with hopes of finding its form at the expense of its rival, here are three storylines we’re keeping an eye on going into Wednesday night.
BAD BLOOD ALREADY?: With under 300 miles separating Albuquerque and El Paso, the two clubs were always likely to build a rivalry over the coming years but one might not have expected sparks to fly quite so quickly. The first meeting between the two clubs at Southwest University Park back on May 12 had just about everything you could ask for from a derby contest anywhere across the USL Championship. There were four goals, four yellow cards and two red cards – all split equally by the two sides – with Locomotive FC taking the lead twice in front of its home fans and New Mexico supplying the response with a goal late in each half. The fiery contest reached its climax in the 72nd minute when NMU forward Santi Moar and Locomotive FC holding midfielder Yuma were sent off for violent conduct in an off-ball incident. With so much on the line and more than two months in between this match and the first, the question is how much of that bad blood will spill over into Wednesday?
SAME RECORD, DIFFERENT PATHS: It’s crazy to think that two teams could have essentially the same record – both sides boast a 7-5-8 record through 20 games with NMU holding the slightest of edges on goal differential (+4 to +3) – but reach that mark by playing such contrasting styles. New Mexico has had a little bit more of the spotlight this season because of its fast-paced attacking play, which has seen it rack up 36 goals – sixth-most in the Championship – but has also left it vulnerable at the back at times. Meanwhile, Locomotive FC has only mustered 23 goals so far this season – fewest of any team currently occupying a playoff spot – but leads the Western Conference in clean sheets (9) and shares the top spot with Fresno FC in goals conceded per game (1.0). So, while there certainly may be some tension amongst the players, Wednesday night’s clash will also produce a clash of philosophies as well.
STAR STRIKERS MUST SHINE: Since much of New Mexico’s early-season success came on the back of its attack, it’s no surprise that its recent slump has been defined by an inability to find the back of the net. Leading scorer Kevaughn Frater (11 goals), who led the Championship’s Golden Boot race after an impressive May that saw him claim the league’s Player of the Month award, has scored just once in league play since the calendar turned to June. His partner in crime, Santi Moar (9 goals), hasn’t scored since May 25. Those two will have to find their shooting boots again if New Mexico wants to deliver a blow to its rival on Wednesday night and climb back up the table over the second half of the season.