New Mexico United is delighted to finally welcome its No. 1 rival to Isotopes Park.
Being a courteous host is another matter.
A United team (6-6-2) in need of a quality win would love nothing better than to take one at the expense of USL Championship Mountain Division-leading El Paso Locomotive FC. The teams square off Saturday night at Isotopes Park.
New Mexico is coming off an unsightly 3-0 loss Wednesday at San Antonio FC and has struggled away from home, losing four matches in a row. But NMU has played well in front of its adoring home fans and hopes the home pitch will be a difference-maker against El Paso (7-1-3).
“We’ve got to be good at home,” midfielder Sergio Rivas said. “We’ve got to bring more energy, give the fans a reason to get loud and build on that.”
Saturday’s match will break a string of seven straight United-Locomotive FC matches in El Paso, and it’s fair to say this one carries more weight for New Mexico. The Locos went 1-1-0 in the season’s first two meetings and come into the match with a four-point edge in the division race. United can ill afford a home loss if it hopes to overtake El Paso in the season’s second half.
“It’s the first time El Paso’s been here since 2019,” NMU coach Troy Lesesne said, “and we’re looking forward to reminding them what Albuquerque and our fans are all about. It’s also up to us to deliver.”
United has been short-handed of late with striker Amando Moreno competing for El Salvador in CONCACAF Gold Cup play and three regular starters (Sam Hamilton, Harry Swartz and Brian Brown) out with injuries. Hamilton (fractured tibia) recently underwent successful surgery, Lesesne said, while Swartz and Brown are questionable for Saturday’s match but expected to return to action soon.
Rivas and defender Kalen Ryden acknowledged the impact of having key players out but said the team’s chemistry remains strong.
“We work hard to build chemistry off the field,” Ryden said. “It doesn’t matter who we have on the field, the chemistry is there.”
Ryden believes consistency is more of an issue, and occasional letdowns have come back to haunt United.
“Losing 3-0 (at San Antonio) is clearly not a good result,” he said, “and I think it forced us all to reflect on the things we need to fix. The biggest thing is we need a complete 90 minutes. We’ve had good halves and good stretches within halves, but we need to put the whole 90 together.”
It won’t be easy against an El Paso team that leads the USL Championship with just eight goals conceded, but Lesesne believes his squad matches up well with the Locos.
“They’re very good defensively and have a very distinct style,” Lesesne said. ” … They can be tough to break down, but we’re one of the few teams that’s been able to score goals against them pretty consistently. Hopefully that continues.”
NOTES: Saturday’s match will be the first played at home this season with no attendance restrictions in place. More than 8,000 tickets had been sold as of Friday afternoon. … El Paso was rated No. 1 in this week’s USL Championship power rankings, while New Mexico was ranked 13th among the league’s 31 teams.