For their first home opener at Zions Bank Stadium (last year’s home opener against Portland Timbers 2 was at Rio Tinto) the Monarchs have received somewhat of a mixed bag. Since being announced as a new USL expansion side on March 1, 2018, the Express have flown very much under the radar with little of the hype and pomp displayed by the other expansion clubs. However, locally in El Paso, they have become a huge story and sold out their home opener last weekend.
With only 20 signed players, the Locomotive roster has a distinct international feel with players hailing from Belgium, Haiti, Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Mexico, England, Spain and Colombia. Only 6 of their signed players appeared in 3 or more games during the 2018 USL season and they were each on a different team. Head Coach Mike Lowry, who himself hails from England, moved over from the Jacksonville Armada and brought a few players from the former NASL side which played in the NPSL during 2018.
Working with what amounts to basically a totally new squad, Lowry spent much of the preseason in Texas finding out who partnered well and attempting to build a team ethic built around maintaining possession. Then, in front of a sold out home opening crowd of 8,324, the Locomotive gave up the second fastest goal in USL history just 22 seconds into the match.
El Paso came back to tie the match up 16 minutes into the first half, but went on to lose 3-1 to an OKC side with a dangerous counter-attack despite having 68.4% of the possession. Whether the game plan going into the Locomotive’s first road match will remain focused on possession and building out of the back from a 4-1-4-1 formation remains open, but the Monarchs would do well to look for a deliberate and patient team at this point in their development.
The Monarchs, who went into a very defensive stance for much of the match once they took a lead in the first half, will be looking to defend their home record and drive the pace of the match much more on Saturday. This will require that they tighten their passing and improve on the overall 66.1% success rate from their match in Sacramento. In particular, they will need to connect of more than 23.6% of their long passes.
In particular, the top 4 in the Monarchs traditional 4-2-3-1 need to improve on their ball interchange in the forward half of the field and create more dangerous chances within their group. Douglas Martinez, Maikel Chang, Jack Blake and Luis Palma are just as new playing with each other as the Locomotive team and it would be good to see them get a second chance in these positions to build on their relationship at home in Zions Bank Stadium.
The bulk of the RSL guest players last week were defensive with David Ochoa, Erik Holt and Donny Toia in goal and along the back. Coming off a great performance in goal, Ochoa seems set to appear frequently with the Monarchs, but the remaining guest players should be more fluid and changing.
Join us in the sun at beautiful Zions Bank Stadium tomorrow at 1 PM and see for yourself what happens.