New Mexico has been awarded a United Soccer League expansion team to start play in 2019 at Isotopes Park, the soccer team’s new owners and the league announced Wednesday.
The USL is the second-highest professional soccer level in America behind Major League Soccer. Its headquarters are in Tampa, Fla.
USL New Mexico will be based in Albuquerque but its owners say it represents the entire state. Public input will establish the formal team name.
Albuquerque native and former Eldorado High and New Mexico Lobo star Devon Sandoval attended a Wednesday press conference and is expected to be the first player signed to the team. He has played with MLS’ Real Salt Lake (2013-2016) and in nine games for Atlanta United 2 in the USL this year.
New Mexico is one of five new teams for next season. It will join expansion clubs in Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas to swell the USL to 40 teams in the United States and Canada in 2019.
“We’ve looked to expand west and focus on a regional competition model that fosters local rivalries,” said USL Commissioner Jake Edwards. “As we’ve been trying to build our league out into the West, we’re looking at communities that we feel would add tremendous value from a number of standpoints.”
The league season runs from March to October with teams. Teams in 2018 played 34 games (split evenly between home and road).
Soccerstadiumdigest.com reports the average USL game attendance as 4,832 for the current season. League numbers indicate the USL has averaged 36 percent attendance increases per year since its inaugural season in 2011.
Edwards said USL fan demographics skew towards millennial males, young families and a large Hispanic following.
Peter Trevisani is New Mexico USL’s team president and owner. He is a former Santa Fe finance director at Thornburg Investment Management who moved to New Mexico in 1999.
The ownership group also includes Ian McKinnon, founding partner of Sandia Holdings LCC in Greenwich, Conn., and TEAM8, a sports management company; Ed Garcia, executive chairman, Garcia Family of Companies; Ben Spencer, CEO, Titan Development in Albuquerque; and Jason Harrington, CEO, HB Construction in Albuquerque.
“The commonality in the group, all were either born or raised in NM or raised our families here,” Trevisani said. “There are no outsiders to this group that don’t have roots here.”
Neither the league nor the local ownership would divulge the franchise fee. USL teams are required to have a lead investor who owns at least 35 percent of the team and has a net worth of at least $20 million, not including his or her ownership stake or primary residence.
“What’s really important is everyone in (New Mexico) feels that this is for them; it doesn’t matter where they live, where they come from, how long they’ve been here,” Trevisani said. “A lot of people leave New Mexico because they can’t realize their hopes and dreams here. We want them to have a reason to stay connected to our state and be part of our local economy.”
Trevisani called Isotopes Park “one of the best stadiums in the country,” but added that the long-term goal is for the team to have its own soccer-specific stadium.
“In the long run, we’d love to have a downtown stadium. If not downtown, we’ll build it somewhere else,” he said.
The pitch at Isotopes Park will run from the first-base line to the left field foul line. Isotopes general manager John Traub said the Triple-A baseball team has been working with the soccer team for several months.
He said, “We want them to succeed. We think this is a very good thing for the community. Its exciting when professional sports leagues want to come to your town. We’ll do everything we can to help them.”
But, as the primary tenant the Isotopes’ needs will be prioritized, he said.
The USL’s minimum seating requirement is 5,000. Edwards said most new stadiums fall in the 7,500-10,000 seat range. Isotopes Park can seat 13,000 for baseball.
The Albuquerque Sol, a Premier Development League soccer team now in its fifth season, could become a feeder program to the new USL team, said Sol GM and interim president Larry Espinoza.
“(The new team) will be a complement to the Sol,” Espinoza said. “We will have a working arrangement and believe it’s the most ideal way to create what we call the path to pro for New Mexicans.”
Sol founder Ron Patel recently resigned from the Sol to become vice president of sales and partnership for USL New Mexico.
“Something of this caliber is good for New Mexico,” Espinoza said. “We’ve proven the concept with the Sol for the last five years. With the operational group they have, it will be better for economics in the city and soccer all the way around.”