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Sol returns from brink of extinction to open season May 30

The Albuquerque Sol men’s soccer team will compete in USL League 2 this season after surviving a threat to its very existence mere weeks ago.

The league office held a conference call with Sol staffers on May 8 – nine days before the team was scheduled to begin play – and informed them that majority owner Aaron Hageman will not be involved in 2019.

Joel Nash, the vice president of USL League 2 and Super Y League promised “operational support needed throughout the 2019 season” for the Sol.

USL League 2, the renamed Premier Development League in which the Sol has competed in past years, has declined to offer specifics on finances.

“The Sol are a very important part of the local soccer community in Albuquerque, just as they’re a very important part of our league,” Nash said in an email.

Hageman did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

Peter Trevisani, owner of the first-year New Mexico United franchise that competes in the USL Championship Division, acknowledged that his group “had a conversation” about acquiring the Sol.

“And it didn’t go anywhere,” Trevisani said. “We’re not involved. … We got our hands full with the USL Championship League.”

New Mexico United plays 34 games from March to October with its home at Isotopes Park. The Sol schedule is a furious 12-game sprint from late May to mid-July, with home games at St. Pius High, though its season opener now will be delayed until May 30.

In general, there are no player salaries to pay, though some get paid if they belong to an MLS or USL Championship club and are playing at this level to work themselves into fitness, as an example.

The Sol has traditionally offered housing assistance, a grocery allowance, and per diem during road trips. The club covers all travel and lodging for road trips.

The USL operational support will focus on ensuring the Sol can maintain compliance with league requirements, approve the budget and be the point of contact for administrative work.

“The league stepped in and made assurance that the funds would be there for the travel, the housing, the things we need to do the program,” said Sol coach Steve Kraemer, who expressed optimism in the arrangement. “The budget will be there. They assured us it would happen. It’s a really well-run league.”

The Sol will play in the Mountain division along with Ogden City, the Colorado Pride Switchbacks U23, and Park City Red Wolves.

The USL League 2 website still lists the Sol as hosting Park City Red Wolves Friday and May 19. Those games are pushed into June and instead the Sol will visit the Red Wolves May 30 and June 1 to open its season.

“It’s been very much an emotional roller coaster over the last six weeks, which we’ve managed to overcome,” Sol president Larry Espinoza said.

The 25 local Sol players knew at least since April that there were problems. After a practice in April under the glow of portable lights at Balloon Fiesta Park, Kraemer and technical director Justin Sells delivered the bad news: There wasn’t enough funding. Exhibition games were scrapped and player contracts had not been registered with the league. Budget cuts meant some drastic austerity measures for housing, meals, and travel.

“To run this team, you got to have some money,” Sells said. “I’m not going to coach the team if we can’t put the players in a good environment, if we don’t have money to travel and do it the right way.”

The coaching staff then briefed other prospects and suggested they look for other options. “There’s some guys we lost to uncertainty,” Sells said.

Perhaps no player has meant more to the Albuquerque Sol than Pat Pacheco. The 28-year-old Taos native has played every season and captained the squad a few years.

“A lot of people might have taken opportunities to go somewhere else,” Pacheco said. “(The) Sol really helped … younger kids – even if they didn’t play in the games or travel, they got the experience of playing against those college-level kids.”

Sol GM David Sullivan said the season travel arrangements won’t be complicated, though he acknowledged providing player housing in Albuquerque could be trickier. He nonetheless struck an optimistic tone about roster construction.

“You will have opportunities to get players back,” Sullivan said. “There’s going to be guys who aren’t happy with the club that they’re at in the first month and they want to leave.”

The Sol season tickets will run $48 for the six-game home slate and be available online at abqsolfc.com by Wednesday.

Bosque Brewing will still be the jersey sponsor and there are other returning sponsors, but the Sol is looking for more. Starr Brothers Brewing Company did not renew its contract with the Sol and instead went to United.

“We decided to do just one,” Starr Brothers co-owner Heather Starr said, adding, “… I think the Sol was the seed that started United; they were the first step in creating buzz about soccer in New Mexico.”

Espinoza wants to maintain a great relationship with United, whose technical director Troy Lesesne has committed to attending some Sol matches.

“It’s a great avenue and opportunity for the (Sol) players and for United as well,” Espinoza said. “There aren’t many overlapping games. Those that are craving soccer, we can fill the void.”

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