United heads south to continue Rio Grande Derby

After a big win in the USL restart, everyone was looking forward to the next match for United (1-1-0). Instead, we get to watch them play in the sand trap down in El Paso. In what is supposed to be one of the biggest rivalries in the West, the Rio Grande Derby has to this point been nothing more than a backyard scuffle with the neighborhood ‘tough’.

Sure, there have been a lot of yellows and a couple reds (C’mon, let’s be honest, they probably shouldn’t have been.). Sure, one side hasn’t won a meeting yet. But we still called United vs El Paso Locomotive FC (1-0-1) a rivalry. It reminds me of how MLS was trying to force the ‘rivalry’ tag on Atlanta United and Orlando City. The matches have gone heavily in favor of one side. Is that really a rivalry?

Rivalry discussion aside, these two clubs came into the league together and both made the playoffs in their first season. They each made huge strides and showed the league that just because they were new they weren’t pushovers. El Paso went further in Western Conference playoffs while United made a deep Open Cup run. Coming into this season though, both clubs lost their leading scorers from 2019 and brought in some new faces. Kevaughn Frater and Jerome Kiesewetter are both gone. So is Santi Moar. Both clubs have questions up top that need to be answered if they want to make it out of Group C.

With two matches in a row against each other, if one club were to take both, it would create a big gap to overcome. Even mentioning the second match is getting a little ahead of ourselves. The focus right now is on Wednesday night.

In their last match El Paso slotted home a late winner after struggling to connect on any of nearly a dozen prior attempts on goal. After dominating possession, there was still some surprise that they managed to score a goal. With no proven scorers in the club, they will need to find a way to get more creative and open spaces for players like Omar Salgado.

The Locomotive attack will find that the United back four is improved over last season and will make life difficult for them. The unit has played well in the first two matches, allowing only two goals, one of which was lucky to find its way into the net. The biggest change for United has been the influx of experience into the club and with that comes better play. United will however, be without the services of Manny Padilla after it came to light that he was the subject of sexual assault allegations while in college. In his absence, I expect to see Austin Yearwood potentially get the start.

Players to Watch

Amando Moreno – Just like El Paso, United has to make up goals from the offseason losses of Moar and Frater. While Devon Sandoval and Chris Wehan will likely see their goal totals go up, Moreno is a player than can come into the club and make an impact. As a member of NYRB II in 2018, Moreno notched 10 goals in 27 appearances, showing that he can be an important player within Troy Lesesne’s system.

Omar Salgado – Salgado has been around the USL since he first appeared with Charleston Battery in 2014. With only 8 goals in league play prior to last season, Salgado has always been more of a secondary striker. After taking a backseat to Kiesewetter in 2019, Salgado still managed 8 goals for the campaign. Now with a chance to be in the spotlight, how will Salgado respond? This could be a breakout year for him, or he could find himself playing second fiddle once again.

We made our predictions on the podcast this week, so go check out the latest episode of the SUNcast on your podcast player of choice.

Wednesday’s match is set for a 7 pm (Mountain) kickoff from El Paso. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+ and can be heard locally on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM as well as via The TEAM app and website.