By Bodie “Bo” Russell / NM News Port
Fans of Albuquerque’s professional soccer team, New Mexico United, are not letting up. Despite a rough year, disrupted by the pandemic, they’re still showing their support of the team and the community.
“We’re having to come up with creative ways, ways to support the team,” said supporter RJ Montaño. “That’s kind of what we’re about, supporting New Mexico United as a team, but also doing what we can for our community.”
Montaño is the president of The Curse, NM United’s supporters’ group. He says though the season is over, the group remains active.
Montaño points proudly to such community-oriented efforts as hosting food drives for different organizations and personal protective equipment drives with University of New Mexico medical students. They hosted Twitch watch parties where they bought food from local restaurants.
“So, just different ways we could try to think to do something instead of just sit around and mope about being stuck at home,” Montaño said.
The Curse also partnered with NM United and two pro soccer clubs from Salt Lake City to provide education packages to rural New Mexican students.
They also highlighted local artists — including musicians and painters — by hosting them on Twitch streams every Thursday. They knew how much that part of the community was struggling.
“We’d send them tips or somehow send them some money just because these artists were also another big factor, a big part of the community that was hit financially, really hard,” Montaño said.
At soccer games, supporters’ groups often sit in a certain section, celebrate loudly, wave flags and set off colored smoke bombs.
“…we just like to make our players feel at home.”
— RJ Montaño, president of The Curse
Building community — by, for example, partnering with We Are This City, Meow Wolf and One Albuquerque on a collaborative art project last year — has been a big part of the NM United approach since the team debuted in 2018. The team set up a non-profit organization, Somos Unidos Foundation, for charitable activities.
In the current offseason, NM United and the Somos Unidos Foundation ran the “Shirts Off Our Backs” Player Project.
The project saw all players’ 2020 season match-worn jerseys be raffled off to people who bought tickets across almost all 50 states and in the United Kingdom.
The raffle raised money for the Community Desk Project, a local non-profit providing New Mexican children and young adults with desks for their at-home workspaces.
“Somos Unidos represents the true spirit of what it means to help one’s community…” David Gunter, Community Desk Project co-founder, said.
Meanwhile, The Curse supported the team through the uniquely tough season.
The Curse put together care packages for the players traveling on the road. United is the only team to have played all their games on the road this season because of New Mexico’s public health orders.
“Since we love to take care of our players and if it’s making tifos, the artistic fabrics that we put out for them, or something, we just like to make our players feel at home,” Montaño said.
He said supporters got closer to the team this season, getting to know the athletes as people, not just soccer stars.
“Their backgrounds are different, and what they like and stuff like that,” Montaño said, adding that “knowing more of who the person is and not just the player on the field” is what made that connection more special.
As for the 2021 season, Montaño hopes that United can be back in their home stadium.
“I think it would be super important ’cause it’s tough playing all the games on the road like they did this season. You could see at the end of the year how it kind of took some steam out of their play,” he said.
Montaño said the supporters’ group declined in membership this year, partly because they weren’t able to get their name out as much and were not visually present, in their usual fashion, at games.
“That’s because we weren’t able to come together and have all these big events. I think last year The Curse grew a lot because people saw what we were doing out in the community,” he said.
As for the fans, Montaño said he understands that it might not be advisable to have them back in the stands if there’s still a health threat.
“I would love to be at a home match, but if I can’t, I don’t think that’s the end of the world. I think we’re gonna continue to find ways to support the team not being there,” he said.
New Mexico United’s trying 2020 season came to a close after they were served a defeat in penalty kicks (3-5) from El Paso Locomotive FC in the USL Championship playoffs.
In the current postseason, United has re-signed players for 2021, including Kalen Ryden and Albuquerque-native Devon Sandoval. Ryden scored one goal and had 17 starts while Sandoval had four goals and 12 starts on the season.
More players are expected to be announced for next season’s roster in the coming weeks.
Bodie “Bo” Russell is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. Follow @b0dier on Twitter.