Injuries and Road Games: No Day at the Beach for Locomotive FC
At last check, Fresno, CA, is geographically closer to a beach than San Antonio, though if you saw Locomotive FC's match in the Alamo City Wednesday you could be forgiven if you scoured the stadium signage for a hint that it wasn't actually South Padre Island.
H-E-B sign? Check.
NBA Spurs “Silver and Black Give Back” sign? Check.
Wait. Was that a palm tree?
How El Paso looks back at its 0-0 draw with San Antonio FC in the world's largest soccer-specific sandbox depends on where you look.
Road record? Unscathed. Locomotive FC has taken the sand out of the home sides in all seven road matches this season, 3-0-4.
Hard to dust off El Paso’s injury woes on the back line after center back Drew Beckie — brought in to help as Mechack Jérôme went off to the Gold Cup with Haiti — came out with a concussion late in the first half.
Jérôme, of course, ruptured his achilles tendon at the Gold Cup.
No official work on center back Chiro N’Toko who suffered a groin pull in practice and did not play.
Also no word on defensive midfielder Yuma who stayed in El Paso Wednesday with a lower leg injury, which is just as well.
Ever tried jogging on a beach?
The conditions at Toyota "Field" were far from ideal for a team that enjoys the part of the game where you roll the ball on the ground, which is to say "soccer".
The whole place looked like a city park in clean-up mode after a beach volleyball tournament. Like they’d rented it out for an auto auction and spread sawdust to sop up the oil. Like Galveston sneezed.
El Paso soccer Twitter was a clam bake fire you could see from space.
Look, when the actual grass is an impediment to sending the ball where you'd like it to go, becoming a Hot Wheels ramp to nowhere because it sticks up in clumps from the rest of the pitch, a possession-based offense that works the ball on the ground is going to have issues.
When the rest of the pitch makes the ball behave like it hit a puddle when passed, you circle the wagons and thank your goalie for saving that penalty in the 17th minute.
Logan Ketterer hasn't faced many shots on goal this season, but he earned all of this shutout, his eighth of the season, tying him with Phoenix's Zac Lubin for second most in the league.
In addition to beaching Jack Barmby's spot kick into the left corner early, Ketterer turned aside a solid effort by San Antonio FC's Billy Forbes in the 52nd minute after Forbes had given Omar Salgado a taste of his own medicine.
With Beckie's injury, Salgado, who has been torching left backs for much the season, shifted to that position in the second half to cover for Andy Fox who moved centrally for Beckie.
Credit Salgado for staying close, but Forbes made a run that looked eerily similar to the one Salgado made in Tulsa that resulted in El Paso’s opening goal, including sand-blasting an unfortunate left back along the way.
He was no doubt happy to see Ketterer behind him, if not wondering whether one of the soccer gods might’ve worn the number “3”.
Will Salgado have to do it again in Fresno Saturday night?
Beckie’s concussion means no travel for the Canadian international, but there is no word on who was healthy enough to make the trip to the San Joaquin Valley.
Seeing N’Toko in his familiar No. 3 would be a huge relief for his teammates. For that matter, Yuma has also played centrally this season, while Fox has played all along the backline.
Locomotive FC benefits from Mark Lowry’s system, where players shift in and out of spaces as the team probes opponents from side to side for weak spots. It takes some sting out of what might be a huge challenge for more vertical, regimented teams.
But having all three main centerbacks out at the same time? Not good.
Fresno FC awaits for an 8:30 p.m. MDT kickoff at Chukchansi Park, also home to the PCL’s Fresno Grizzlies.
At 25 points (6-2-7) and in sixth place in the USL Championship’s Western Conference, Los Zorros would love to play leapfrog with third place El Paso (7-3-6, 27 points), and would vault Locomotive FC with a win.
Though the Foxes don’t have a Jerome Kiesewetter, they do have five players who have scored at least three goals, paced by Jemal Johnson with six.
Fresno FC is tied for ninth in the league for goals-scored with 26, though the team has given up at least two goals in three of its last five matches.
Lowry has a tough ask of his team, playing its third match in a week, second on the road in four days and with a patchwork back line.
But stranger things have happened.
Like Locomotive FC being all too happy to get off a soccer pitch and back onto a converted baseball field.
It’ll be like seeing an old flame who’s better looking than you thought they’d be.