NM rising on pro soccer circuit

The city of Albuquerque has taken a big step in its journey to becoming a home for an MLS (Major League Soccer) team. Albuquerque has been awarded with a USL (United Soccer League) franchise. The team will compete in the league beginning with the 2019 season.

The new team will be named New Mexico United. Albuquerque will join cities from Alabama, Texas and Tennessee that were awarded a USL team.

“Somos Unidos” is the official slogan for the United. The phrase translates to, “We are United.”

The USL is the league directly below the MLS. The new owners of NM United say that when the MLS adds new teams to their league they choose from the USL. Someday that may be Albuquerque.

Meeting USL Requirements

In order to be awarded with a USL expansion team, Albuquerque had to meet certain requirements.  

Teams are required to have a main investor who owns at least 35 percent of the team. This investor must also have a net worth of at least $20 million. Peter Trevisani is the lead investor of the group that will finance the United. Trevisani said his group is made up of local investors who own local businesses.

“All were either born or raised in New Mexico…there are no outsiders to this group… that don’t have roots here,” Trevisani said.

NM United lead investor Peter Trevisani introducing their first signed athlete, former UNM Lobo Devon Sandoval. Photo courtesy of NM United.

The USL also prefers that teams entering the league are in cities with a population of at least 750,000. The USL fan demographics  lean toward millennial males and has a large Hispanic following. A 2010 census shows the Albuquerque metro area had a population of almost 888,000 and has a large Hispanic population. It also shows that over half of the population is under the age of 45, while a quarter of the population is 24 or younger.

A Good Place to Play

New Mexico United has teamed up with the Albuquerque Isotopes and will play its home games at Isotopes Park during its inaugural season. The USL requires teams to play in stadiums with a capacity of at least 5,000 people. The Isotopes Park has a capacity of around 13,000.

Soccer fans in New Mexico have already seen a first look on what a soccer game at Isotopes park will be like. Two teams from Mexico’s Liga MX, Tigres and Guerreros Santos Laguna, played an exhibition match at Isotopes park in front of thousands of fans. The team will also hold a ‘Meet Your Seat’ event where fans can see the soccer field at the park and choose season tickets to purchase.

Artist concept of Isotopes Park as a soccer stadium. Photo courtesy of NM United.

Isotopes general manager John Traub has no problem partnering with the United.

“We want them to succeed. We think this is a very good thing for the community. It’s exciting when professional sports leagues want to come to your town. We’ll do everything we can to help them,” Traub said.

Sol Not Forgotten

The city is currently home to a professional soccer team, The Albuquerque Sol. The Sol compete in the PDL (Professional Development League), which is the league below the USL. The Sol will remain a team in the PDL and will likely become a feeder team that will feed players, coaches and staff to the new USL team.

“We will have a working arrangement with the new team and believe it is the most ideal way to create what we call “the path to pro” for New Mexicans,” Sol General Manager, Larry Espinoza said.

Building out a Team Roster

With the start of its inaugural season in the United Soccer League rapidly approaching, New Mexico United has already begun the process of filling out its player roster and coaching staff.

Troy Lesesne will be the United’s first coach. He was previously an assistant coach at a different USL team.

The team has announced the signing of five players that are set to join former New Mexico Lobo Devon Sandoval on the United roster. They are  Toni Soler, Joshua Suggs, Cody Mizell, Juan Guzman and Austin Yearwood. All of the players that were signed have prior USL experience.

Head coach Lesesne has a specific idea of the type of players he wants on the roster.

“I want intelligent players… They have to fit the mentality piece of what our club is going to be after, competing relentlessly every day,” Lesene said. “We want humble, hardworking players that are open minded to new concepts.”  

The most high profile player joining the team for its inaugural season is Sandoval.

“He has a way of showing up in important moments and he is committed to bringing success to this club and our community,” Lesesne said.

Since the announcement of the first six signings, the team has announced the signing of an additional two players: Justin Schmidt and Sam Hamilton. Both players have previous USL experience.

The team also held an open tryout on November 10th. Close to 100 players from across the country showed up and tried out for the team.

Video: NM United attracts dozens of athletes to an open tryout in November 2018. UNM student intern Sergio Guerrero captured the story. 

“I’ve organized many open trials and I’ve always discovered quality talent. This trial was no different,” Lesesne said.

The team did not indicate if it had signed any players from the trial to the roster.

Marketing the New Hometown Club

With the roster beginning to take shape the club has ramped up its efforts in reaching out to the fans and promoting the team to the community.

The United held the Black and Yellow Bash at Marble Brewing in downtown Albuquerque. Some 500 fans showed up to the event to meet the players, coaching staff and owner.

United signee Josh Suggs spoke on the event.

“The Black & Yellow Bash was a truly remarkable and unforgettable event for New Mexico United. The fans showcased their passion and excitement for what is to come,” Suggs said.

VP of sales Ron Patel called the event a huge success for the club. “Season ticket holders, corporate partners and new fans alike showed up in droves for the Black & Yellow Bash and it was a memorable night for New Mexico,” Patel said.

Professional USL soccer is now just a months away from officially debuting in Albuquerque in March 2019.  Company founders say what started as just a dream is finally becoming a reality.

“It’s so exciting. The energy here. The atmosphere here. To think in four months we’ll be doing this with New Mexico’s team,” Trevisani said.

You can follow Isaac Cruz on Twitter @Cruz_Isaac_