New Mexico United’s remarkable 2020 journey reached an agonizing conclusion Saturday night.
After scoring a tying goal late in stoppage time and threatening through much of overtime, United was finally bested in a penalty kick shootout in a West Texas playoff showdown. Host El Paso Locomotive FC punched its ticket to the USL Championship’s Western Conference final with the narrowest of wins over rival New Mexico. Regulation and overtime ended with the score even at 1-1 before El Paso prevailed with a 5-3 victory in penalty kicks.
The ending brought jubilation for Locomotive FC, which extended its unbeaten streak to 13 matches, won in a shootout for the second straight week, and advanced to the USL Championship’s final four. El Paso next will face Phoenix Rising, which edged Reno 5-4 in penalty kicks Saturday in the other Western Conference semi.
Saturday’s result at Southwest University Park was a bitter pill for United to swallow. The team that overcame adversity all season, playing all 17 of its matches on the road because of New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions, came ever so close to adding another stunning chapter to its unlikely story.
United spent most of the first half on its heels and trailed 1-0 at halftime after El Paso’s Dylan Mares scored in the 30th minute. El Paso Locomotive was the clear aggressor, nearly adding a second tally on a crossing shot that deflected off NMU’s Josh Suggs and almost crossed the goal line before Suggs managed to clear it.
New Mexico began to find its rhythm in the second half and put together several quality scoring chances, but the score remained 1-0 into stoppage time as El Paso used every trick in its book to burn time off the clock.
With just over a minute left in stoppage time, Romeo Parkes hammered a low, 30-yard rocket into the lower left corner of the net to equalize the score at 1-1. Parkes, who came in as a substitution midway through the second half, nearly scored again in the first of two 15-minute overtime periods on a blast just wide of the post. It was one of several near-misses by NMU, which pressed the attack against a deflated El Paso side in the extra minutes.
But neither team could add a go-ahead goal, and the fifth matchup between the rivals this season was finally decided in penalty kicks. El Paso and NMU split their previous four meetings with a win apiece and two draws.
Saturday’s shootout brought instant frustration to United as goalkeeper Cody Mizell got his hands on El Paso’s first two shots only to have them deflect into the net. Each team buried its first three kicks and El Paso converted a fourth before Locomotive FC goalie Logan Ketterer guessed right and saved a low shot by Parkes. Distel Zola followed by hitting El Paso’s final PK to clinch the victory.
After a sluggish start, United finished with 61% of the match’s possession and outshot El Paso 14-12. Locomotive FC put five shots on target to NMU’s three.
Louisville and Tampa Bay will play next week in the Eastern Conference final, the winner to play Phoenix or El Paso the following week.
(Click here for United match statistics and more details.)