El Paso Locomotive FC signed midfielders Diego Abarca (left) and Joel Maldonado (right) on Thursday, making the duo the first players to turn professional with the club from the Locomotive FC Academy program. | Photo courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC
EL PASO, Texas – El Paso Locomotive FC reached a landmark moment in club history on Thursday as it announced the signing of Academy products Diego Abarca and Joel Maldonado to their first professional contracts for the 2023 USL Championship season. The signings are pending league and federation approval.
Both native El Pasoans, Abarca and Maldonado competed for Locomotive FC in the Championship this past season as USL Academy signings. They now become the first players from the organization’s development structure to turn professional for their hometown club.
“Ownership, Alan, and Andrew have shown great initiative with the Academy and the ability to offer young players professional contracts,” said Locomotive FC Head Coach and Technical Director John Hutchinson. “With that, Joel and Diego are the first but definitely not the last to be promoted from within our own club. We are fortunate enough to have the right people with the Academy, and we have the ability to help young players grow and choose the pathway they desire.”
WHAT A FIRST PROFESSIONAL GOAL FOR DIEGO ABARCA!#ELPvHFD | @eplocomotivefc pic.twitter.com/peJDCDJfWv— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) June 5, 2022
Abarca appeared in eight matches for El Paso during the 2022 season and scored his first goal for the Locos in June. In a scoreless game against Hartford Athletic at Southwest University Park, Abarca scored a stunner in the 56th minute to give El Paso the opener. The 16-year-old received the ball near the top of the penalty area and sent it curling into the top-left corner. His finish earned a place on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 and Futbol Americas.
“Diego has shown talent since my arrival at this club,” said Hutchinson. “He was with us in preseason and played some good minutes throughout the year. He is a young player with potential and we want to see what he does in the future.”
Maldonado appeared in six matches for El Paso during the 2022 season and was a part of the 18-man roster for a large percentage of the 2022 campaign.
“Joel started with us also through preseason,” said Hutchinson. “He has grown throughout the year earning good minutes with the first team. We are looking at Joel earning more minutes next season and helping the team be successful.”
Locomotive FC’s Academy has made strides in its first two seasons, earlier this year, graduating 10 local homegrown players into collegiate soccer.
El Paso Locomotive FC and the Locomotive Academy is dedicated to elevating and fostering the talent that exists in the borderland and creating opportunities for these young athletes in the professional and collegiate space.
“This is a great day for our entire club, but more specifically, this is an exceptional day for our Academy,” said Locomotive FC Academy Director Ivan Militar. “These contracts have been awarded on the basis that both players have high potential, earning their professional deals after showcasing their talent in our fully funded U19 USL Academy League Team. Our Academy is extremely proud of Joel and Diego; we have real belief in their ability.”
El Paso Locomotive FC General Manager Andrew Forrest welcomes Diego Abarca (left) and Joel Maldonado (center) as they turn professional with their hometown club. | Photo courtesy El Paso Locomotive FC
Since its founding in 2020, El Paso Locomotive Youth Soccer's title partnership with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, presented in part by GECU, has excelled in its mission to provide the El Paso community a platform for success through competitive soccer. By providing El Paso youth soccer hopefuls a supportive and competitive environment, the Locomotive Youth Academy paves the way for its players to reach success in either professional and/or collegiate levels.
“At El Paso Locomotive FC's Academy, every young player feels as if they've got a chance here,” said Militar. “They're all going into every training session thinking, ‘this could be the session that changes my life,’ and that's the right mindset to have.”