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New Mexico United soccer: A primer, part 1

(Editor’s note: Expansion pro soccer franchise New Mexico United plays its first-ever game Saturday at Isotopes Park. Today’s installment begins a three-part series on things to know about the team, the league and the fan experience.)

The New Mexico United franchise that is owned by Peter Trevisani and debuts this week will compete in the “USL Championship,” the second division of American professional soccer behind only Major League Soccer. In 2019, the USL Championship will feature 36 teams split between the Eastern and Western conferences. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.

Games played and teams per conference are not the same every year, complicating assessments of how many points will be needed to make the playoffs. But over the last five seasons, the minimum points per game needed to secure the final playoff spot in the Western Conference computes to 1.43 points per game. That would translate to 48.6 points needed over the 34-game season.

Teams get three points for a win and one for a draw.

“It’s a highly competitive league (and) it’s gotten better every year,” New Mexico United coach Troy Lesesne said. “Some of the teams in our division have competed with and beaten MLS teams, particularly in the Open Cup.”

The USL looks to add 15 more expansion clubs by 2026, likely in top 50 media markets. League officials anticipate some attrition via teams jumping up to MLS or electing to drop down to lower competition in USL League One.

Unlike most domestic soccer leagues globally, American soccer has no promotion relegation system. If you have loud opinions on the DH, instant replay or the NCAA cartel, you’ll feel at home in the promotion relegation debate.

In 2019, 14 MLS teams have an affiliate competing in the USL. New Mexico United is not affiliated with an MLS team. During his time with the USL clubs in Charleston and Charlotte, Lesesne worked with MLS teams.

“In the first year we just wanted to establish who New Mexico United was,” Lesesne said. “I want New Mexico United to be its own team without any direct affiliation. It gives us flexibility. We’re not just locked into one team.”

Locally, the Albuquerque Sol played in the Premier Development League for its first five seasons. For season six, it’s the same level, just renamed as USL League Two. Players are not compensated, though they may receive assistance for meals and housing. Players in USL League Two often progress by signing their first professional contract.

THE ROSTER: New Mexico United can carry 30 active players on its “Master Roster,” but Lesesne actually prefers a smaller group.

“We’ll get it up to 21 or 22 is what I hope,” Lesesne said. “I want everyone to feel like they’re involved. When you start to have 24, 25, 26, (when) it’s the same guys in the same spot it starts to take away from the entire group.”

Lesesne does not anticipate adding numbers during the season, but that’s based on good health. The club uses a subjective smartphone app called SoccerPulse to aggregate player feedback on fitness and trainings.

“We monitor players like crazy, their scores every day,” Lesesne said.

NMU will likely play a 4-3-3 (four defenders behind three midfielders and three forwards), but tactics will be dictated by game situations.

“We have some guys that have a lot of versatility,” Lesesne said. “There are some midfielders who can play in defensive positions. Even a few forwards can drop down into midfield.”

N.M. United has 20 players on the roster with two goalkeepers, five defenders, nine midfielders, and four forwards. The club is infused with some local flair.

• Devon Sandoval (forward): Albuquerque native; Eldorado High School; UNM

• Chris Wehan (midfielder): played at UNM

• Josh Goss (midfielder): Albuquerque native; UNM and the Albuquerque Sol

• Josh Suggs (defender): Las Cruces native

• Justin Schmidt (defender): Albuquerque native

It’s allowed seven “International Players” (non-U.S. or Canadian citizens) on the roster and on its game-day team sheet. NMU will use all its international spots. Teams are permitted to trade/sell international roster spots. Teams also have two “Permanent Loan Assignment” roster spots.

SALARIES: USL Championship players are paid and there is no league salary cap. Most player contracts are for one year with a club option beyond. Some NMU players receive housing stipends along with a monthly paycheck. Most contacts include a universal incentive based on team (not individual) production.

NMU stayed within its salary budget; Trevisani, without divulging salary figures, said its budget placed them in the USL median for team spending.

“We stayed right on budget,” Trevisani said. “There’s no correlation between spending money and winning cups, and there’s no correlation between camaraderie and team engagement with community and salary.”

Players may be sold or loaned to other clubs with the purchaser paying a transfer fee to the seller.