The Albuquerque Sol has played five seasons in the Premier Development League, the fourth division of American men’s soccer. It’s often the starting point for aspiring professionals typically around college age, and the Sol has emphasized mining Albuquerque’s talent.
Starting this year, that opportunity will be extended to young women.
The Sol organization is developing a team to compete this summer in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), which started in 1998 and boasts more than 100 teams.
“The pro game on the women’s side is growing worldwide. I think it’s important, as a community we have opportunities for both men and women,” Sol general manager Dave Sullivan said. “There are amazing players that this city puts out. The talent pool for women’s soccer in our city is deep.”
Sullivan is expected to manage the women’s team with coaching responsibilities on top of his GM role. He has coached girls soccer at St. Pius, for 16 years, the last four as the head varsity coach. He has worked directing day-to-day operations for the Sol including other logistics.
Sol president Larry Espinoza said the majority of players will be collegiate players age 18 to 23. The season is 12 games not counting exhibitions and runs mid-late May to mid-July.
Espinoza emphasized the club needs support from the public and business communities, and that with the birth of the first-year New Mexico United men’s team to play in the United Soccer League, “we are no longer looking to be in the professional ranks … but we are looking at being the top of the youth market.”
The WPSL franchise application review is not as intense as what N.M. United had. The WPSL has minimum thresholds for home stadiums, visiting locker rooms and stadium accessibility. Waivers are available on a case-by-case basis.
A divisional assignment for the women won’t come until the league meeting this weekend in Las Vegas, Nev., but the club expects to play teams from Phoenix and Denver frequently. Proximity breeds rivalries and helps control travel costs. The Sol’s PDL experience suggests the travel won’t be an impediment for the women’s team.
The Sol men and women will share the club name, colors and crest. The two teams will likely flip-flop doubleheaders when both are at home — the Sol men have played most home matches at St. Pius and some at the University of New Mexico soccer complex. The club will sell a season pass enabling ticket holders to go to either (or both) games. Espinoza hopes to have a “Everything Albuquerque” pregame fair with local vendors and music.
Sol men’s 2018 coach Justin Sells expressed excitement at the opportunity for good female players in New Mexico. He may slide into a formal technical director role where he’d oversee the staff for the men’s and women’s Sol teams.
“I think it’s a probably a higher level than what PDL was,” he said of the WPSL’s level of play. “With professional soccer on the men’s side there’s so many different leagues, there’s a lot of different outlets for guys to play. It’s probably not as watered down because there’s not as many opportunities. ”
UNM women’s soccer coach Heather Dyche noted that NCAA rules dictate that only five rostered collegiate players may play together in a summer league. That requirement does not apply to incoming freshman. Dyche and her staff won’t be allowed to coach the new Sol team but are excited for its inauguration. She likes the local option for players from the state to get quality summer experience, whether or not affiliated with UNM.
“The majority of the collegiate players play in this league,” Dyche said. “If you want to play in the summer you have to move where some of the teams are playing. It allows players who grew up in New Mexico to come back and play in the summer.”
Both Sol teams will hold open tryouts Feb. 9 (women at 1 p.m., men at 3 p.m.) at Balloon Fiesta Park with callbacks Feb. 10. More details including registration are available on the Sol’s website (abqsolfc.com).