By one count, 22 players saw action this year for the splashy new pro sports team in Albuquerque.
But so very many more people than that got a kick out of New Mexico United soccer.
The first-year United Soccer League addition, an edition put together with players from down the road to across the oceans, had its ups and downs of course. The 11-10-13 record for 46 points (three for a win, one for a tie) got the last playoff spot from the 10-team Western Conference, and United was one-and-done in the USL postseason.
In another context, United was a huge winner.
It captured the dedication of the hardcore and the imagination of the curious in a way so many other pro teams had tried and failed to do over the years in Albuquerque.
It led the 36-team USL with an average home attendance of 12,693 over 17 matches at Isotopes Park, according to the online Soccer Stadium Digest.
And that has its owners and others pitching the construction of a new $100 million stadium complex.
Team owner and CEO Peter Trevisani appeared before a legislative committee last week and described the project as a possible “cultural arts center of sorts” with restaurants and hotels potentially designed in collaboration with the another huge New Mexico success, the Meow Wolf arts collective, a chief sponsor of United.
Trevisani also acknowledged interest in a possible move up to Major League Soccer, the United States’ top professional soccer league. A lofty goal for a first-year team – but a team that has exceeded expectations on and off the playing field.
Trevisani, a former partner with Thornburg Investment Management, often talks about how he envisioned a United organization that would bring New Mexicans together and give them something to celebrate.
In an interview earlier this year he told the Journal: “You can have 10 people, men and women, boys and girls, speaking 10 different languages, praying to 10 different gods, 10 different whatever, but when they watch this beautiful game of soccer, they’re communicating perfectly. So I felt this was something that could help bring people together. There’s a lot of power in that.”
The crowds are made up of families, senior citizens, young soccer players, former soccer players and those who just love the game. Spanish and English are spoken throughout. A crowd favorite chant of “Pobrecito!” (“poor thing” in Spanish) erupts every time an opposing player takes a tumble.
And on the pitch, even in the midst of the win-some, lose-some, draw-some first year, coach Troy Lesesne’s crew generated excitement.
Given the opportunity to participate in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the knock-out cup competition in American soccer that includes everybody from high amateur to Major League Soccer from 34 states, United had stunning advancement.
First, New Mexico overcame Phoenix Rising and Colorado Springs, fellow USL teams, to reach the fourth round. Then United went on the road and knocked off two MLS teams, the Colorado Rapids on penalty kicks and FC Dallas 2-1, to reach the quarterfinals. There, in the Twin Cities, United met its match, falling 6-1 to Minnesota, but creating waves on the way.
The United’s Santi Moar earned second-team All-United Soccer League honors, recording 11 goals and five assists for the first-year club. But he had a lot of help in making memories.
“We will never have another first year and first team for New Mexico United. This group will always have a special place in our club’s history and I am so proud of each and every one of these players,” said Trevisani.