With star midfielder Diego Luna now in the MLS with Real Salt Lake and other players out due to injury, suspension or with their international team, the door has opened for others on the El Paso Locomotive FC to take advantage.
Enter 16-year-old El Pasoan Diego Abarca.
Abarca, who has been learning with the Locomotive Academy squad, was called up to help with the main team. On Saturday night against Hartford, he scored his first career goal in the 56th minute to help El Paso earn a 1-1 tie at Southwest University Park.
Teammate Dylan Mares picked up a great pass before cutting in center and finding Abarca. After laying the ball over to Abarca, Abarca took a left footed shot that curled into the top corner.
“I’m grateful for the trust of the coaches,” Abarca said. “I wasn’t expecting to go in but I’m always ready. To get my first goal: it’s incredible. I’m just working hard every day, staying dedicated and have the mentality that the chance will come.”
More:El Paso players on Locomotive top-level academy team making mark for senior club
Las Cruces’ Joel Maldonado, 18, also helped the team in recent matches after coming up from the Academy.
“We’re staying focused and pushing each other to work hard and we continue to believe in ourselves,” Maldonado said. “It was great to see Diego get the goal and he’s worked hard.”
Goalkeeper Newton playing well
Veteran goalkeeper Evan Newton has played well of late and that in turn has helped El Paso find its footing in USL play.
The Locomotive lost five of its last six, but has rallied to improve to 6-6-3 after Saturday’s match.
The 33-year-old Newton has had three clean sheets in the past six games. On Saturday, he had a beautiful save on a shot near the goal in the second half to keep the score tied at 1-1.
“Early in the season, we were trying to figure some things out, trying to get used to play with each other,” Newton said. “I’m just trying to be a leader and help this team get to where we want to be. We have a good group of guys working hard.”
The 6-foot-2 Newton played collegiately at Old Dominion, where he is the record holder in saves and shutouts. He was the 2018 USL Championship Gold Glove winner with a goals against average of .80. He is the USL all-time league leader with shutouts with 50.
“Evan has been a leader for us,” Abarca said. “He’s someone we can look to for advice and he’s been great in terms of helping us stay confident.”
What’s next for El Paso
The Locomotive are on the road the next two weeks at Phoenix Rising FC and Detroit City FC before returning home on June 25 against the New York Red Bulls II.
El Paso is undefeated in its last six home games and are now 5-1-2 against Eastern Conference clubs after Saturday’s tie.
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Felix F. Chavez may be reached at 915-546-6167; email@example.com; @Fchavezeptimes on Twitter.