FRESNO, Calif. – It could have been the moment that saw everything fall apart for El Paso Locomotive FC.
A crucial giveaway by goalkeeper Logan Ketterer 10 minutes into the second half that saw Fresno FC’s Alex Cooper send a shot back with interest that ripped into the right corner of the net, overturning Locomotive FC’s halftime lead, was the sort of deflating situation another side might not have recovered from.
But after riding out a half-hour spell in which it recorded only one shot – and that a blocked long-range effort by Yuma – Locomotive FC willed its season back on the tracks.
First it was James Kiffe, the only player in the squad with a victory in the USL Championship Final to his name, that produced a moment of magic with 13 minutes to go, a twisting effort that saw him torque his body so far he fell to the floor after catching the ball flush 20 yards from goal to send it into the left corner of the net.
Then it was Sebastian Velasquez, a regular season title-winner two years ago with Real Monarchs SLC, who stepped to the mark, converting from the penalty spot after Josue Aaron Gomez had been brought down in the area with seven minutes remaining.
In the often-volatile Western Conference Playoffs – no top seed has represented the conference in the USL Championship Final since the league moved to two conferences in 2015 – it was another night for the road side to advance and let the rest of its adversaries that remained in the bracket know it wasn’t going to go quietly.
“Playoffs are tough,” said Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry. “Every game is essentially a final, but that wasn’t just a win, that was about coming home next Saturday, that’s what that was all about. To give the El Paso community a playoff game, and not just a Play-In Round or a Quarterfinal, a Semifinal playoff game next week at home.”
Playing in front of packed houses at Southwest University Park in its inaugural season, Locomotive FC’s impact on its home city could be seen as it arrived back in El Paso on Sunday afternoon. Numerous fans – led by the 8th Notch supporter’s group – were at the airport to welcome the players, coaches and staff back after their trip home.
El Paso...that was for you.— Mark Lowry (@CoachMarkLowry) October 27, 2019
These players deserve a packed house next week. Let’s show the world how El Paso turns up.
Getting to play one more time in front of its home fans this Saturday against No. 7 seed Sacramento Republic FC, with the prize for the winner a visit to either No. 1 seed Phoenix Rising FC or No. 4 seed Real Monarchs SLC, Locomotive FC aims to make the most of what’s set to be a big-game atmosphere in the Borderland.
“It’s going to be a great occasion, and that was for you guys,” said Lowry. “I mean, the boys out there gave you everything tonight and I know you saw that, and I know you’re proud of them, and we’re just so grateful to have you supporting us every day.”