Rivalry between United and El Paso continues tonight

I’ve always contended that United’s primary rivals weren’t El Paso. Since the inaugural season, I thought it was Phoenix despite the fact that many thought otherwise. After COVID-19 forced changes to the USL format both in 2020 and 2021, the additional matches between United and El Paso have gone a long way to cementing the two clubs as the primary rival for each other.

Look, I love the matches against Phoenix. They’re loud, they’re fun, but they aren’t the same as El Paso.

El Paso is one of those clubs you love to hate. From the terrible camera angles and biased commentary on their broadcasts, to their supporters and players. There’s just a lot to not like about this club. Plus, the distance between the two of them makes it easy under normal circumstances for supporters to make the away matches. It makes for one unbelievable atmosphere on match day.

Since 2019, the two sides have met six times in the regular season. Seven times altogether including the 2020 playoffs. Not including the playoff match, the regular season meetings have resulted in 32 cautions being issued and two straight reds.

Oh, and a 2-3-1 record for United.

Except for the 2019 match in Albuquerque, each one has been decided by one goal or less. It’s essentially a coin flip as to what happens. Well, maybe a three sided coin if something actually existed.

Wrong Three-Sided Coin. And yes, this was a real thing.

The 2021 season series between the two clubs should bring more of the same. Both clubs return a large portion of their respective 2020 rosters and there should be no love lost between them. Other than that, we don’t know a lot about El Paso heading into this match.

Players to Watch

Richie Ryan – Ryan is a dynamic midfielder who isn’t afraid to scrap with opposing players. Although he may be nearing the end of his career at the age of 36, he still has the ability to perform at a high level.

Aidan Apodaca – A new face to the Locomotive squad in 2021, Apodaca was last on the pitch for Reno 1868 where he averaged a goal every 60 minutes. He will need to be contained by the back three of United throughout the match or he could have a huge impact on the outcome.

After a lackluster showing in their opener, United has something to prove this week. They have to prove that the loss to RGV was a one-off after a promising pre-season. No one expected United to lose last week, especially us. Maybe we went too far the other way with our predictions because of that, but the club has to show what it’s made of week in and week out.

Maybe they just didn’t have it in week two.

It happens that way in sports some times. You can’t win them all. Or at least that’s what we’re told. Until you reach the end of the season, there’s always next week. There’s always a chance to turn it around and get a better result. That’s what United is shooting for tonight in El Paso.

Projected XI

In order to come away with a win, United has to step up their game in the midfield. That and a lot fewer whistles. United didn’t adapt well to the pace of play against RGV and given the history of this series, I would expect to see a lot of the same this week. They have to figure out a way to play around the whistles while controlling the midfield. Doing that takes a lot of the threat out of the Locomotive attack.

Controlling the midfield also opens up opportunities for United in the final third. That’s something else they didn’t take advantage of last week. They had opportunities, but were unable to make anything happen from them. Shots were either put right at the keeper or off target. Logan Ketterer can be beaten and United have shown that time and time again. Whoever is up top for United tonight, needs to have patience and placement on their shot selection. If they can do that United will get in the win column for the first time in ’21.

Players to Watch

Andrew Tinari – He’s not listed on the injury report this week, so hopefully that’s a good sign that he’ll be in the XI today. Tinari was a great signing for the club in 2020 and is probably the top defensive midfielder at the club currently. If he’s back in the team sheet, he’ll be someone to keep your eye on.

Ilija Ilić – While he didn’t have much of an impact in his debut, the Serbian Sniper could have more to say against El Paso. With his size and ability to score from anywhere, Ilija can create nightmares for the El Paso defense.

Tonight’s match is schedule to kick off at 7:30 pm (MDT) from Southwest University Park in El Paso. The match can be seen on ESPN+ domestically and international viewers can catch the action live on YouTube.