Rio GranDerby: Playoff Edition

That’s right folks, it’s time for yet another edition of the Rio GranDerby. This time though, it’s a win or go home scenario as the two sides face off in the Western Conference Semi-finals.

For the second-year clubs, this match marks the seventh time they have faced each other in their short history and the first time they’ve met in the playoffs. For two brand new clubs, the fact that they’ve both reached the playoffs in their first two years of existence is remarkable.

I know we keep talking about it, but this will be United’s 17th match on the road this season. Roughly a third of their 2020 season has been spent in El Paso. Peter, if you’re reading this, it may be time to buy some property near the state line and just set up shop down there. It’s been a strange year, but at least the club gets a playoff match close to home.

Let’s take a look back at the history of the Rio GranDerby (Is there really no other name we could have called this?) :

  • May 12, 2019 – El Paso 2 – 2 United
  • July 31, 2019 – United 3 – 0 El Paso
  • July 15, 2020 – El Paso 2 – 2 United
  • July 24, 2020 – El Paso 1 – 2 United
  • September 4, 2020 – El Paso 3 – 2 United
  • September 26, 2020 – El Paso 0 – United

Only once in the history of the clubs has El Paso defeated United. And to be completely honest, that was the result of a deflected ball. If not for the deflection that match would have likely ended in another draw.

That’s part of what makes football so much fun to watch though. In an instant things can change. If you take a deeper look at this series though, not much has really changed since the beginning. Every match played between them has been a tough, physical affair with an average of 5 yellow cards being shown in every one of them. I think the confrontations in last year’s matches were more deserving, but we’ve seen more yellow cards this season between these two clubs than United and any other club.

Sure, there have been some new faces, but the intensity has stayed the same. Today is sure to be no different.

Both clubs come into the match today after having tough matches in the quarterfinals. United, in the eyes of many, handed out the biggest upset of the playoffs so far. El Paso was pushed to the brink by an FC Tulsa club that no one expected to be able to compete with them. According to FiveThirtyEight, United was only projected to have a 35% chance to win last while while Tulsa had a 28% chance. Of the away clubs, they had the best showing of any of them.

FiveThirtyEight historically hasn’t been kind to United. Which is odd seeing as how they’ve outperformed El Paso in terms of this series. I also don’t believe FiveThirtyEight is taking into account the fact that United has played pretty damn well on the road this year. In fact, they have given United only a 41% chance to win today. Now, I love FiveThirtyEight, but I’m not convinced that their data is complete.

That’s neither here nor there though. What matters is what happens on the pitch tonight at Southwest University Park.

Projected XI against El Paso Locomotive FC

We’ve talked about it all season in our previews and on the podcast, so I’m not going to go in depth again. United knows what they need to do to win. We know what United need to do, and it comes down to two keys:

Win the midfield and force El Paso to have to try and break the press.

El Paso has struggled with the latter in the past and it’s resulted in mistakes from their defenders and Logan Ketterer. United has to make more of the same happen and then take advantage of those mistakes.

The same goes for the midfield. If El Paso is able to get past the first line of the press, then Andrew Tinari and Juan Pablo Guzman will be key to slowing down the buildup from the Locomotive. They’ve been solid all year long and can be game changers tonight.

We gave our predictions on the podcast this week. Needless to say, we all think that United will win and advance to the Western Conference finals. Go check out the episode for our complete thoughts on tonight’s match.

Myself, Jacob, and potentially earl will be hosting a watch-along tonight over on Twitch and would love to see all of you there. Come hang out, discuss the match, soccer, or anything else with us as we cheer on our club.

Tonight’s match will be streamed live on ESPN+ for domestic viewers and on YouTube for international viewers. Locally, the match can also be seen on EstrellaTV. The match will also be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, via The TEAM app, and website. There will also be a broadcast on SiriusXM FC channel 157.