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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group C

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/25/20, 1:05PM EDT

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Rocky Mountain rivals are joined by El Paso, New Mexico, which should produce tight battle


Western Conference Final opponents a season ago, Real Monarchs SLC and El Paso Locomotive FC are joined by New Mexico United and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in Group C. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC

The group assignments for Groups A through D ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Thursday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.

Here we look at Group C, which includes three postseason teams from a season ago – including defending USL Championship Title-winners Real Monarchs SLC – and a Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC side that has the potential for a resurgence.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W @OKC 2-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Alan Koch
2019 Season: 7-21-6, 27pts
OVERVIEW
A full preseason under new Head Coach Alan Koch and a revamped squad gave everyone at Switchbacks FC a sense of confidence going into the new season, but it was the side’s 2-1 win on the road against OKC Energy FC to start the new campaign that lent credence to the idea Colorado Springs is going to be a contender this year. How that carries through to what is on paper a tough group, we’ll see, but the Switchbacks’ apparent strength might be what makes this group the hardest to predict in the West.
Player to Watch
Aidan Daniels
Daniels did a little bit of everything for the Switchbacks in their opening win against Energy FC, winning 9 of 13 duels, completing 24 of 28 passes and recording three chances created. If his energy level remains the same in the center of the field for Colorado Springs during this abbreviated season, the 21-year-old Canadian’s stock will rise plenty.
El Paso Locomotive FC
Record: 0-0-1, 1pt | T @OC 0-0 [3/6]
Head Coach: Mark Lowry
2019 Season: 13-10-11, 50pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Final
OVERVIEW
Locomotive FC earned a good point on the road against Orange County SC to open its campaign and will certainly be expecting to be in the postseason for a second consecutive year as Head Coach Mark Lowry looks for growth within his squad. The big question is still where the goals are going to come from – a topic that wasn’t answered in the scoreless result in California – but the team’s overall organization is going to make it difficult to break down.
Player to Watch
Dylan Mares
Mares was one of the later signings in the preseason by Locomotive FC, but the club was excited by the attacking prowess he can bring from the midfield. The last few months may have given him a chance to build more off-field chemistry with his teammates, and if he can click into place with Omar Salgado, Alexy Bosetti and Marios Lomis, things could be very bright indeed for El Paso.
New Mexico United
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @ATX 1-0 [3/7]
Head Coach: Troy Lesesne
2019 Season: 11-10-13, 46pts; Eliminated in Western Conference Play-In Round
OVERVIEW
The result on the road to Austin Bold FC to start the season wasn’t what New Mexico United was looking for, but there were positive signs that things were close to where they needed to be with the new arrivals in the lineup. There are going to be two key questions for the side as it moves back into action, however. First, can it hold firm defensively in a group where goals might be at a premium? Second, how will it perform without the fervent support of The Curse and the rest of United’s fans backing it at Isotopes Park?
Player to Watch
Kalen Ryden
Ryden’s social media antics have certainly endeared him to United’s supporters – and most of the rest of us – over the past three months. If he performs as well on the field as he does on TikTok, there may not be many laughs to be had for opposing forwards.
Real Monarchs SLC
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L @SA 1-0 [3/7]
Head Coach: Jamison Olave
2019 Season: 16-10-8, 56pts; 2019 USL Championship Final Winner
OVERVIEW
A road defeat marked the start of the Monarchs’ title defense, but the biggest question facing the side as it prepares to return to action is how good its depth might be early in the season. With Real Salt Lake heading to Florida with likely a sizeable contingent of players in tow for part of resumption, there could be real pressure on players like Jack Blake, Noah Powder, James Moberg and Taylor Peay to keep the Monarchs moving forward, because it feels like this is a group that’s going to be hard to play catch-up in if you fall behind.
Player to Watch
Jack Blake
There’s going to be a good portion of responsibility on the field on the captain’s shoulders. Knowing Blake, he’ll be looking forward to that challenge. If he and his fellow veterans can help the Monarchs’ younger players – and new arrivals like Joe Gallardo Jr. and Arturo Rodriguez – to thrive, they’ll be right in the middle of the playoff race again.

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