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In Conversation with… Mark Lowry, El Paso Locomotive FC

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/06/21, 5:47PM EDT


El Paso’s boss talks growing up an Aston Villa fan, the pressure of being a young coach, and how data has refined Locomotive FC’s playing principals

El Paso Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry has embraced the passion of the city's supporters while leading the club to remarkable success over its first two seasons in the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC

At 35 years old, Mark Lowry has put himself at the forefront of the wave of exciting young coaches in the USL Championship. The El Paso Locomotive FC Head Coach has led his side to back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Final of the USL Championship Playoffs in the club’s first two seasons while playing an exciting an entertaining brand of soccer at Southwest University Park. 

Ahead of the start of Locomotive FC’s third season on Saturday against New Mexico United (9:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+), I caught up with Lowry to talk about the experience of growing up an Aston Villa fan and the inspiration he currently draws from the Premier League club, how the success of young coaches such as himself in the Championship can open doors for others to follow, why El Paso’s passion for the game made his current job an attractive one, and how data has informed the way Locomotive FC now approaches games while staying true to his overall principals of how the game should be played. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Nicholas Murray: What’s the first game you remember going to as a kid? 

Mark Lowry: I vaguely remember going to Aston Villa versus Coventry City and leaving pretty early in the game because I was crying. I was probably three or four at the time, and leaning on my dad’s shoulder as we were walking out the ground, I think he was a little upset that we were leaving, but he understood, I wasn’t ready for it, so that was my first experience of going to a game. But then, from there, I had Aston Villa season tickets through my childhood, so I went to Villa Park quite a lot, I loved it. 

NM: When did you first get your season tickets to Villa? 

ML: I was probably 11, 12, in the Holte End at Villa Park. It was a fantastic atmosphere, I think it was the John Gregory/Brian Little era and we had a good team, always in Europe around that time, so it was a good time to be a Villa fan. 

NM: I remember those teams, Andy Townsend, Dalian Atkinson, those kinds of players. 

ML: Exactly. One of my best memories was when we went to Wembley to play Man United, that would have been in 1994, so I would have been nine, that’s one of my earliest memories, when we beat Man United 3-1 at Wembley in the Coca Cola Cup Final. Dean Saunders got two goals, he was my favorite player of that era. I grew up on Dean Saunders. 

NM: Do you still feel that connection that you had when you were growing up now? Personally, I’m from Cambridge, so growing up there you gradually become a Cambridge United fan because they’re not a big club, but I feel like nowadays I follow the club more closely than I did when I was a kid, just because we have the potential of so much more access to the club now than we used to. Is that the same with you and Villa? 

ML: Yes and no. No, in the sense that we’re not there, right, we’re not on the doorstep, we’re not going to games like we used to. Our physical access to the club is different because we’re in another country, but I think with social media and teams now understanding the commercial side of the game is so important, the outreach teams have to have to make money in other countries, in other continents, I think that helps us gain an insight and stay connected to the clubs. I think working in soccer, like you do, we’re so busy with our own jobs and our own teams, or working at the USL, that we don’t get to probably see as much of the Cambridge Uniteds and Aston Villas as we’d like, but we’re definitely connected and know what’s going on because of access we have now on social media platforms and the importance clubs put in that, which is a huge way clubs grow their brand around the world. 

Soccer is a global game, and I think the big clubs in England are realizing that and we’re certainly getting more access to it as the years go on. 

NM: Has it been fun to see the resurgence of Villa, especially this year with getting back in the Premier League and Jack Grealish and those guys putting such good performances week-in and week-out? 

ML: It really has. It’s such a big club, right, and the Championship is such a good league now it’s hard to get out of. You see clubs the likes of Leeds United and the Sunderlands that spent a low of time in the lower leagues. Now, Leeds are back, but Sunderland are still struggling, so there’s always that worry when you drop down that you’re not going to come back, but Villa are such a huge club, and having a special player like Jack Grealish – I truly believe he’s one of the best players in the world. He might be the best player in the Premier League, the quality he gives Villa, when he’s not playing, we’re not as good.  

It’s been great to see Grealish and those guys coming through and the resurgence of Villa, but I think personally I love seeing Dean Smith, the Head Coach, who’s a Villa fan. He’s from Birmingham, he’s from the local area, it really resonates with me. Obviously, we all have dreams and ambitions and goals, and probably my biggest is to manage Aston Villa. It’s something that would just be a dream come true one day, and having Dean Smith at the helm kind of makes it feel like it’s there, it’s tangible, it’s reachable, because he’s there, he’s a local guy who’s come through the lower leagues, and when you have that connection to a club, when you have the coach and the best player and the captain in Jack Grealish all be Villa fans, it means so much more to the community, and that’s the same all over the world. If you can get a connection to the community it just means so much more, and you tend to be more successful because of that. 

Obviously, we all have dreams and ambitions and goals, and probably my biggest is to manage Aston Villa. It’s something that would just be a dream come true one day, and having Dean Smith at the helm kind of makes it feel like it’s there, it’s tangible, it’s reachable.

NM: I feel exactly the same way. I think one of the biggest stories for us at Cambridge this year – we’re on the verge of getting promoted, fingers crossed – but our Coach, Mark Bonner, he’s a Cambridge guy, he started coaching in the Academy and he’s moved all the way up to be the First Team coach, and you feel it with him, the passion he has for the club, and I think it rubs off on everybody else, the players that have been there for quite a few years and those that have arrived more recently. There’s just something about that where you have that connection, and it pushes the club on. 

ML: You care more, when you’re a fan of the club and you love the club and it’s in your blood, you care more, so you’re naturally going to go above and beyond for it. The fans that it connects you to, because you’re a fan yourself, you’re kind of living the dream for all the fans there. Failure’s not an option when you love the club, and I think the fans realize that. 

NM: There are so many people who have a passion for the game, how early on did you know you wanted to pursue something serious career-wise in soccer?

ML: Pretty early. We all grow up in England, in Europe, wanting to be a professional soccer player, it’s just as a boy playing at a good level in professional academies, it’s the dream, and it’s something that you want to do because you see how good it is and you want to be involved in football, but I think for me I wanted to be a pro until I was about 16 or 17, and then I had my first taste of coaching, and it was just in schools, working with 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds, just after school, that type of thing. I actually fell in love with the coaching side of it more than the playing very early on, I was still pursuing the playing side at a high level, getting paid to play, trying to kick on and get to the top level in terms of playing, but there was always this nagging feeling that I actually enjoyed the coaching side more.

I always knew I wanted to be in the game, but it wasn’t until I got to 16 or 17 that I actually knew what that meant, it didn’t mean being a player at the highest level, it meant being a coach at the highest level, and going through that process early on helped me as I’m still a young coach, but I have a lot of experience because I knew at 16 or 17 that this was what I wanted to do. 

NM: I saw an interesting quote this offseason from Neill Collins, one of your contemporaries in the Championship, and he had a very long playing career, but he basically said that he always felt like he was a coach who was playing, rather than a player. 

ML: Yeah, I read that, that was a great quote. 

NM: Does that resonate with you? 

ML: Yes and no? I didn’t realize it, but I was a coach playing the game. I had an ability to play every position, and one of the reasons why I probably wasn’t the best player is because I was a jack of all trades, I could play right back, center midfield, right wing, up top, I could play anywhere, and I didn’t know what that meant until I got into coaching, and now I have this understanding of every position on the field, which allows me to be a better coach and to give better information to my players. 

Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / El Paso Locomotive FC

Sometimes, I think you see it more with goalkeepers, when they get into the coaching game, they’ve had a career as a goalkeeper and they don’t know as much about other positions, or if they’ve been a No. 9 their whole career. For me, I had a knack of slipping into any position and do a good job, and I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it meant I was a decent player, but what it meant was philosophically I had a good understanding of the game, which allows me then, I think it transitions into you being a good coach, because you can give information and you have specific knowledge of a guy’s position. I wouldn’t say I felt like a coach on the field, but I felt like I could play all different positions, which I think has helped me become a coach. 

NM: You earned your UEFA ‘B’ License when you were 21, what did it mean to receive that level of accreditation that early? 

It was a great experience for me, I love the course, I love going through it, and it not only let me know what coaching was at a high level, but it gave you confidence, when you come through a course like that out of the other side of it, you grow in confidence as a coach.

ML: It was brilliant. That was a big thing in Europe, the UEFA licenses. You go through the FA ones at the lower level, the Level 1, Level 2-type stuff, but the UEFA ones it feels like it’s the real game now. You’re working 11v11 with men, delivering information. It was a great experience for me, I love the course, I love going through it, and it not only let me know what coaching was at a high level, but it gave you confidence, when you come through a course like that out of the other side of it, you grow in confidence as a coach. Getting it very young, I’m still a young coach but getting that when was early 20s gave me this platform to really grow from. 

NM: One of the big topics in regard to coaching in America is the cost of taking licenses through the Federation, where it seems much more candidate-friendly in Europe and especially places like Germany. Do you think costs are potentially a barrier to more potential young coaches – as you were back then – trying to earn that accreditation and move into the coaching ranks here? 

ML: 100 percent. It’s a big thing here, the licenses are expensive, and I understand why. Once you’ve been on one, you realize a lot goes into it from the U.S. Soccer standpoint. They’re providing the hotels, the foot for those in-person, residential weeks, so there is a lot that goes into it and it’s costly for the federation, but I think the ‘A’ License is maybe $3,000 for the whole course, two sets of $1,500 payments, not a lot of people can do that, particularly young coaches who haven’t built up that financial base because they’re still young, it does put people off it and it does hold people back, which is unfortunate, but I’m not sure what the answers are. 

I know U.S. Soccer have to cover their costs for the course, they have to put on a quality course which obviously is more expense on their end, but it does put people off and you see a lot of people on social media saying they want to go on the ‘B’ or the ‘A’ course but I can’t afford that. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what the answer is. In Europe it is a little less expensive, and you maybe feel like you get more bang for the buck out of it, but I don’t know what the answer is to change that. 

NM: About one-third of the current Head Coaches in the Championship – including yourself – are aged 40 years old or younger. What does that say to you about the state of the league and the direction it’s moving in? 

ML: I think it’s brilliant. I look at Germany as the pioneers of that. You look at the Bundesliga and they’re big on young coaches, early 40s, late 30s either coming through Academies there or coming out of the game playing-wise and moving into coaching, the Bundesliga are pioneers in that. I think the USL has definitely excelled in that, a lot of coaches in their late 30s, early 40s, but now you see MLS changing now as well in terms of bringing younger coaches. You look at [Hernan] Losada at D.C. and people like that, there is a youth movement in coaching in MLS as well, which I think is a really good thing for the game. 

It’s definitely helped me as a coach, having those people and seeing the other young coaches in the league that are doing a great job, and I think it’s the right movement.

I think we’ve seen with the likes of Pep [Guardiola] getting into coaching young, [Julian] Nagelsmann who’s doing good things in Germany, [Mauricio] Poccetino was a young coach at one point, the successes they had early on and the energy they bring to the table as a young coach, and the way they can connect with the players as a young coach changes the way people see coaching. It’s definitely helped me as a coach, having those people and seeing the other young coaches in the league that are doing a great job, and I think it’s the right movement. Whether it’s intentional by the USL or it’s just the right way to go, it’s definitely working for the clubs, for the league and for young coaches like myself. 

NM: I definitely feel like the success people like yourself, Troy Lesesne over in New Mexico, Neill obviously in Tampa Bay, it’s making clubs less nervous about going with a young coach, giving someone that first Head Coaching position. Is that the feeling you get, that there’s less fear of jumping in? 

ML: Absolutely, and I think we would be naïve, myself, Troy and the other young coaches, we would be naïve if we [ignored] that we have a great opportunity, but with that opportunity comes a great responsibility. The only way this trend continues is if we are successful, and I say whenever a coach from the lower leagues gets into MLS, whenever a Gio Savarese goes from the New York Cosmos to the Portland Timbers, we’re all looking at that from below, looking up, “Gio, you’ve got to go and do well now, mate.” Because if you do well, which he has, and if Marc Dos Santos does a good job in Vancouver and James O’Connor went to Orlando, if they do a good job there it opens doors for other young coaches coming through.  

So, even though we’re blessed to have this opportunity – being professional coaches at the pro level – I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility. I can’t speak for others, but I have to be successful so this door for young coaches that are in my position, late 20s, trying to find their way in the game, not sure when that door is going to open, we provide those opportunities for those guys by doing a good job, which – like you said – makes clubs more open and less concerned about bringing in a young coach because the ones that came before – myself, Troy, Neill, all those guys – have done a good job. There’s a fair amount of responsibility which we thrive on as part of the game, but I’m very mindful of that, because I was once that young coach wondering if he was going to get that opportunity, and the truth is it’s the ones that come before you that open doors and provide that opportunity for you. 

NM: Do you ever miss England? 

ML: Yes, I do. I miss the opening of a paper and reading about the Premier League, I miss switching on at TV and having a Premier League game on, I miss the accessibility from that standpoint. There is a game on there every night, whether it’s a Premier League game, a Championship game, a Champions League game, a non-league game, there’s always a game on that’s a good level that you can watch, so you can be around it, you can immerse yourself in it a bit more in England, I think. I miss that side of things. 

I miss my family not being able to come to games, I think that’s a big thing for all of us. I think if I was in England or my family was over here in America, they’d be at every game and they’d be loving it, but in terms of missing it from a lifestyle standpoint, I don’t really think so. I think we’re in a really good spot here, I think the opportunities here are great, but the passion for the game over there is still a little bit ahead of where it is in this country. 

NM: What has your experience been like in El Paso? 

ML: I’ll be honest, I’ve loved it. My first impression of El Paso was a real good one, the management here, the ownership, the set-up we have, the stadium, the support that they were willing to give us from Day 1 has been huge, so my first impression of El Paso was great, and from then on, I’ve grown to love the city. The facilities they’ve provided have been second-to-none, there have been no complaints there. They’ve supported us in putting a good product and a good team on the field. There have been ups and downs, but that’s football, right, but in terms of El Paso Locomotive, El Paso the city, the community, I’ve loved every day of being here. 

NM: The Borderplex struck me as a very unique place when we visited for the club’s launch in 2018, and I got another sense of that when I saw you and the players walking over the border bridge in preseason to play FC Juarez as well. How would you describe the synergy between the two cities, and the two clubs as well? 

ML: It terms of the two cities, we don’t see a border, we don’t see a fence, we don’t see a divide. We see it all as one region, which I think is super-unique and super-cool. The synergy between [Locomotive FC and FC Juarez] is good, we communicate on a daily basis, the management over there has been great. We obviously share players, we share ideas, we get over there and watch them as much as we can, they come and watch us as much as they can, so it’s obviously something that takes time to grow and build trust in each other, and confidence in each other in terms of familiarity in terms of the two clubs, but as each year has gone on, the connection’s gotten stronger, the closeness has got closer, we love it. 

Going back to what I was saying about England, this is probably the one place in the U.S. where I feel like you get that passion for the game because you have an FC Juarez, and the Mexican soccer culture, the passion is incredible, and it does remind me a little bit of what it’s like being in England, so there’s this high-level USL Championship team on your doorstep, a high-level Liga MX team on your doorstep. The stadiums are one mile apart, we can walk from our stadium to theirs, it’s such a unique experience and one we’re embracing and learning from and enjoying every single minute. Look at how lucky we are to have that.

This is probably the one place in the U.S. where I feel like you get that passion for the game because you have an FC Juarez, and the Mexican soccer culture, the passion is incredible, and it does remind me a little bit of what it’s like being in England.

There really isn’t any other place in the U.S. – San Diego and Tijuana, they share a border – but you can see their stadium from our stadium when you’re stood on top of it. It’s such a cool experience to have.

This preseason, Locomotive FC players took the bridge that joins El Paso and Juarez, Mexico to play scrimmages against Liga MX club FC Juarez. The two club's stadiums sit approximately one mile apart in the Borderplex. | Photo courtesy Locomotive FC

NM: The passion the fans have, I was expecting that, we really experienced that and had a great time while we were there, what does it mean to play in a place where that does come with expectations and mean that they’re going to be a bit more exacting than other markets in the Championship that not only are you successful, but are you successful in playing the “right” way? 

ML: That was one thing that appealed to me about this club. I felt like I needed that as the next development in my career. I felt I knew how I wanted to play the game, coming from Jacksonville I had a little bit of success, obviously your ideas evolve and they change as the game changes, but I wanted that extra pressure, and the fans provide that. They have an education on the game, they’ve followed the game for a while, as fans of FC Juarez they expect a certain level of football, it’s a culture that demands winning, Mexican soccer has always been successful, they’re used to that, so they want that, they do want an exciting style of play, they want the respect back. As coaches, as players, as a team, we want respect from the fans, but they want it back, so it’s a reciprocal thing, but the extra piece for me was the media. I wanted the scrutiny and the questioning of a high-level media presence. I wanted that to challenge me as a coach. 

We can get in a comfort zone sometimes, and it’s not always about getting better on the field, the Xs and Os, it’s the holistic approach to how you manage a club and an organization is something I wanted to get better at, and I felt the media here – I learned Spanish before I came here because I wanted to be able to answer in Spanish, and I did that in the first two years, I did interviews in Spanish after games. I felt that was huge for me to be able to do that, it adds strings to my bow, it pushes me outside my comfort zone. So, the fans did that, the community did that, but also the media down here was something that appealed to me as well, the scrutiny and the questioning, the detail they get into with things, I wanted to be put in that position and get out of my comfort zone a little bit. 

NM: One of the key trends in the Championship is developing academy talent, and potentially not only pushing that up to a club’s First Team but then hopefully sending them on to bigger things in the future. Locomotive FC is certainly on that path with the youth infrastructure you’ve built, has the club set a timeline on when it would like to achieve certain benchmarks in that process? 

ML: There’s a couple of benchmarks. There’s a player from the Academy becoming a First Team player, and I don’t mean Academy contracts, I mean a legitimate First Team player where he’s getting regular minutes and he’s contributing to the team. 

We’re probably still a year or so away from one of our Academy players being a guy who can be in the 18, that can play for us. We have a couple that train with us every day, we’ve got three guys in with us that we believe can in 12 months, 18 months time can step on the field for us, which is a huge thing.

We’re on track with a couple of guys on that, we’re probably still a year or so away from one of our Academy players being a guy who can be in the 18, that can play for us. We have a couple that train with us every day, we’ve got three guys in with us that we believe can in 12 months, 18 months time can step on the field for us, which is a huge thing. 

Then, there’s having a player who is doing that, but then you sell them on or they move on to a high level, and I’m talking about the highest level in the world, whether that’s a top Division 1 team in Europe, a Liga MX team or an MLS team. We have that with Diego Luna, we feel. Diego’s not an El Paso kid, he’s 17, we identified him, he’s very well known, a lot of MLS clubs wanted him. We showed Diego what we can offer, we brought him in, he trained here, enjoyed the environment, so we were fortunate and able to sign him to a First Team, full professional contract. He’s a guy that we see in two years’ time making that next step. I would compare him to Jose Gallegos in San Antonio, who’s now 19, 20 and is now probably ready to make that next step. He’s had looks at Bayern Munich and clubs like that, but he’s a player that’s that talented, he’s ready to make the next step, and we see Diego following that path. So, there’s two goals there. 

NM: You were appointed five years ago in Jacksonville, initially as an interim Head Coach before becoming the permanent appointee, how do you think you’ve changed as a manager and a tactician over that span? 

ML: Good question. I actually believe that the more experience you get, the more you do the job, the better you are at simplifying the information. So, it’s actually getting less and less about tactics now and more about our principals, and our principals are very simple to identify and to deliver. You’re the same person, you just understand the job more. You’re more intelligent and more knowledgeable, so you find every year it may be the same thing, but every year you get better at delivering that bit of information, and when I say get better at it, it means using less words, making it simpler to understand for the players. So, the more I understand, the better I can communicate it, which means the players are better equipped to execute it on the field.

I think confidence grows. During the game, your game management gets better, just like players playing the game, every game you coach, we get better. My ideas, beliefs, the romantic side of me is still the same, but I believe now I’m better at delivering that information to players and managing in games to where that game three of four years ago we lose, now I’ve turned it into a draw from a decision I made, or a substation, or a tactical tweak in the game. I think those are two things we get better at as we get older, and you ask any top coach, the simpler they make it for the players, the better they can execute it. They want to go play, let them go play, make it as simple and easy to digest as possible and they can go be successful. 

NM: There’s a ton of data now in soccer, trying to break down players and teams, do you pay much attention to the concept of underlying numbers, expected goal and those types of things, or is what you see and what you feel from your players more important? 

ML: It’s both. What we see and feel from our players is most important, but we spend a lot of time using what we call objective analysis. We have our own [Key Performance Indicators] that are related to how we want to play. Then what we do as well, for the last three years – this was bit of secrecy, but I don’t think they’ll mind, we all need to be open here – we tracked every goal that was scored in the USL Championship and how it was scored. We do that personally, every weekend, every Monday morning, we watch every single goal in the USL Championship and we put them in categories; set pieces, counterattacks, long-range shots, crosses, and there’s a trend where most goals in the USL are scored one of three ways – set pieces, crosses and counterattacks.  

When Pep [Guardiola] went to Germany, he said the counterattacks were unbelievable. He changed his system and his principals – he was still the same coach, they still possessed the ball – but they tweaked a few things to prevent counterattacks. We’ve done the same here.

So, that now should – that objective data, that real-life data – now dictates what you teach, what you deliver and how you play. If that’s how goals are scored, it makes sense to work on ways to stop those three things. That type of data does determine what our principals are and how we set up to play. I’d be naïve to set up to play a way that doesn’t have an impact or doesn’t relate to this league. Every league is different, every league has its own nuances. When Pep [Guardiola] went to Germany, he said the counterattacks were unbelievable. He changed his system and his principals – he was still the same coach, they still possessed the ball – but they tweaked a few things to prevent counterattacks. We’ve done the same here, we’re still the same team, our identity is the same, but we’ve had a look at the league and said, if this is how goals are scored, how can we stop these three moments or get better at these three moments? That data for me is priceless, that real-life data, that objective analysis is priceless for me and the way we work. 

NM: Do you think Locomotive FC has gotten enough recognition for what it’s accomplished over its first two seasons, going to back-to-back Western Conference Finals? 

ML: Yes and no. Yes, because I think the club, we do a good job, so it’s hard to ignore what we do. I think we get recognition, because we’re playing in those games where we’re in the spotlight. People see the club does a good job off the field, we do a good job on the field, sometimes I think there’s a respect we’re maybe not getting. We believe we’re the best team in the USL Championship, we’ve been to a couple of Conference Finals, we haven’t won one yet, so we know we’ve got more to do, but we feel like teams in the league respect us – they know when they come to El Paso, they’re going to get a tough game, they’re not going to have as much of the ball as they usually have, they’re going to have to be good in certain areas. 

We want to see ourselves at the top of every list, so when we’re not when it’s in terms of predictions or the rankings for the season, if we’re not a the top, that gives us motivation. We’re going to get there. We do want to be top at every, every stat, every ranking, we want to be the top team, so it drives us. I think it’s a good thing because it keeps us grounded, it keeps us humble, and it keeps us working. It’s working for us, we’ll get our heads down and keep working and try to win as many games as possible and we stay motivated doing that. 

NM: Who do you think the most underrated player in your squad is? 

ML: Nick Ross. It makes a lot of sense why, because he doesn’t get the goals, and he’s not the center back who’s making clearances, but from an all-around footballer, he might be the best player that we have, and I think everyone on the team would say that. Absolutely class act on the field, he doesn’t give the ball away, he’s the pass before the pass that creates the goal, if that makes sense. Everything good that we do, Nick Ross is usually involved in.  

It’s the [Sergio] Busquets quote that someone said a while ago, “if you watch the game, you don’t see Busquets, but if you watch Busquets, you see the game.” I see Nick as someone similar to that. If you watch the game, you won’t see Nick, but if you watch Nick, you’ll see the game. He’s a guy that doesn’t need the recognition, he’s not after the accolades, he does his job, and he’s so good at what he does for us, he’s a crucial player. 

Playing in central midfield, El Paso Locomotive FC's Nick Ross has been the central cog that has kept his side moving on the way to back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference Final of the USL Championship Playoffs. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales /

NM: I know at the start of preseason, some coaches will put a list of benchmarks they want to achieve on the whiteboard in the locker room. Did you do that this year, and if so, what did it say, what are the objectives for Locomotive FC in 2021? 

ML: The good and the bad of it is it was very clear after the first two seasons. In terms of what we want to get better on the field, we need to score more goals. Year 1, we didn’t create enough chances. Year 2, we created a lot of chances, we were up Top 5 in the league in Chances Created, Dylan Mares was second in the league in Big Chances Created, but we didn’t convert those chances, so our conversion rate needs to go higher. We’ve always been in the bottom third in conversion rate when you look at the stats on the USL website – you guys do a great job tracking those stats, it makes it easy for us to go on – so it’s that conversion rate in front of goal that has to improve in terms of our evolution of our game model. 

We have to win a trophy. We have to go one step further. ... Only two teams reach the Western Conference Final every year, it’s not guaranteed, it’s an incredibly difficult task. But for us it’s our only objective. Anything less than that will be a disappointment for us.

Then, the achievement objective, we have to win a trophy. We have to go one step further. We put a presentation together at the start of the season, it was “2019: Western Conference Final – Lost in Extra Time; 2020: Western Conference Final – Lost in PKs”, so, in theory, we’ve gotten a little bit closer, we’ve gone from extra time to PKs, and that’s an important point for me because it shows that, guys, you’re getting there, it’s reachable, it’s a small goal, a bite-sized objective. Now in 2021, and we’ve kind of left it blank. It’s very clear when we look at it like that what we need to do as a team. We have to now go past penalties and win a trophy. Whether that’s via penalties, whether that’s via the 90 minutes, we have to go one step further than we’ve been before. Unfortunately for us, that’s a high bar. Only two teams reach the Western Conference Final every year, it’s not guaranteed, it’s an incredibly difficult task. But for us it’s our only objective. Anything less than that will be a disappointment for us, and it’s setting the bar high, but we have a locker room full of guys that want that pressure, want that challenge, and I think we have a group of guys that are ready to meet it.

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