El Paso Locomotive FC's Sebastian Velasquez celebrates with Head Coach Mark Lowry after opening the scoring in Locomotive FC's 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
EL PASO, Texas – It was, in some ways, a performance that was very unlike the El Paso Locomotive FC side that the club’s fans have gotten used to seeing at Southwest University Park throughout its inaugural season in the USL Championship.
Locomotive FC – a side that has prided itself on using possession to control the tempo of the game – recorded the second-fewest number of passes it had at home all season and had its lowest overall home possession total of the campaign.
But in showing a cutting edge in that possession, Locomotive FC left no doubt of its playoff-worthiness in a 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 and showed the potential it possesses for the games yet to come in the upcoming month.
“It feels great. There’s a lot of relief,” El Paso Head Coach Mark Lowry told KTSM after his side officially booked its place in the postseason on Tuesday night. “We feel like we’ve put a lot into this season and a lot of circumstances haven’t gone our way, but the guys have been phenomenal. This performance tonight, the goals, the entertainment, everyone was so phenomenal. I’m just so proud of the group.”
El Paso Locomotive FC players thank the 8th Notch and the rest of the club's supporters after clinching a place in the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs on Tuesday night. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
Lowry is certainly correct about things not having always gone Locomotive FC’s way this season. The midseason eight-game winless streak that coincided with forward Jerome Kiesewetter falling out of the lineup due to injury challenged his side, but by reinforcing the squad with the likes of Sebastian Velasquez and Alexy Bosetti before Kiesewetter returned, El Paso emerged in a stronger position than before.
The attacking flair the side showed off on Tuesday night was a testament to that growth. El Paso recorded 15 shots from inside the penalty area – its highest total in a game this season – while its eight shots on goal tied the club’s best mark at home this campaign. If not for three standout saves by Portland goalkeeper Jake Leeker, the final margin of victory for the hosts could have been wider.
In the middle of much of that play was Velasquez, who provided arguably the two signature moments of Tuesday’s win. The 2017 Championship All-League selection’s brilliant weaving run and finish in the fourth minute gave Locomotive FC an important early lead to settle any nerves that might have been present, and his no-look assist on Josue Gomez’s first goal of the night – which put El Paso up by two with just over 20 minutes to go – kick-started the postseason celebration among the 6,175 fans in the stands.
“What a feeling it is,” Velasquez told KTSM. “We all had the same goal, everyone fighting for the same thing and we did our first step which was make the playoffs. Now, it’s to go off and win a championship.”
Now on a six-game undefeated streak (4-0-2) as it heads to face the LA Galaxy II on Saturday in its final game of the regular season, Locomotive FC feels like a side that won’t be satisfied by simply being the first team in the Championship’s expansion class of 2019 to have reached the postseason.
And while that might require finding a path to success on the road – where Locomotive FC has gone 5-5-6 so far this campaign – Tuesday’s performance should have shown that El Paso can be comfortable with and without the ball as it looks to peak at the perfect time.