Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Although their season has already started, some introductions are in order: Santa Fe, meet the New Mexico Elite.
The Elite is a brand new, semi-professional indoor soccer team that calls Santa Fe home. The team just played its second home game on Saturday night at the Shellaberger Tennis Center, off Siringo Road or St. Michael’s Drive in the southwest corner of the campus of the defunct Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
The team plays in the fledgling Major Arena Soccer League 2, a developmental league for MASL that has teams in some major U.S. cities.
For those unfamiliar with indoor soccer, think hockey sans the ice. Like hockey, each team has a goalie and five other players. Players enter and leave play similar to hockey, as well, changing on the fly. And when players earn a card – blue, yellow or red – for infractions, the offending player gets sent off for two minutes, five minutes or is ejected, creating a power play situation.
And like hockey, the play moves quickly from end to end, with high boards to keep the ball in play and moving, and plenty of offense to keep the game exciting.
“Santa Fe is a great location for this type of game or sport,” said Cesar Dominguez, one of the partners in the team’s ownership group. “There’s nothing of this level of competition.”
The team plays at a tennis center, he said, because there wasn’t really many other options. By comparison, the New Mexico Runners, a fellow start-up team, plays in the voluminous Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
“The area doesn’t have too many options for this type of game,” Dominguez said. “The tennis center, they were real good in letting us play our games there, so that’s where we are doing our games right now, but the amount of people that we can put in that arena is very limited.”
Of course, that means the tickets that are sold on the team’s website (nmelitesoccer.com) can be at a premium.
“In the first game, we had a full house,” Dominguez said. “We expect to have a full house every game. They have seating capacity already there and it’s a very nice space, but it’s for a limited amount of people. For those who get in, they enjoy a comfortable location.”
The Elite took care of its first mission, getting a leg up on the Runners with a 10-8 victory in Rio Rancho on Dec. 15, but Dominguez said he sees a budding rivalry as being good for both franchises.
“I think, like the Runner management team, we are looking to elevate the sport more and not necessarily competing with them,” he said. “We want to bring the sport higher. Playing against each other brings traffic. People want to come and enjoy a good game, and you can create more passionate fans.”
In keeping with that ideal, most of the players were culled from local areas.
“Basically, we have a good understanding of how to reach players and find the correct players in our community, and that is what we’ve been doing,” Dominguez said. “We try to get the local players from Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and areas surrounding this, to be our players. On our roster, 70 percent are local players from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”
While the team and league are in their infancy, Dominguez said the goal is to grow and develop players who are capable of playing at the next level.
“The first thing is we have players who have committed to the idea and responsibility that is MASL,” he said. “That’s the first thing that players needed to understand. Everybody on our roster is really committed to reaching that level. We get a very good response for practice and that’s good because we practice three or four times a week. We’re trying to build something that will last.”
In part to do that, Dominguez said he’s actively seeking more partnerships from local businesses.
“We have very good sponsors,” he said. “They have helped us a lot in terms of putting this together. We want to reach out to any Santa Fe business owners to come and look at game, and help us with sponsorship because this is for Santa Fe.”
The team is 1-1 so far. Remaining home games are against the Runners, the Inferno from Colorado Springs and the Colorado Rumble, whose home stadium is on the southern outskirts of Denver. Also in the league’s Mountain Division are the Ciudad Juárez Cuervos.