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NM United, USL have restart date: July 11

Before the pandemic, crowds like this were commonplace at Isotopes Park for United soccer games. That won’t be the case when/if play resumes this summer. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal )

Peter Trevisani kept his poker face on as long as he could.

The majority owner of New Mexico United, the state’s second-year professional soccer club, took to Zoom on Thursday to deliver the news that his fellow owners on the Board of Governors of the USL Championship league had voted in favor of restarting the 2020 season July 11.

“All I said was we had a very important all-staff meeting at 12:15 today — players and coaches and staff, everybody,” said Trevisani. “I didn’t let on to anybody about (the decision). … When they heard the news, there was just a collective uproar and cheers and seeing the players pumping their fists, staff pumping their fists and the coaches giving these long-distance high fives, yeah. It was pretty amazing.”

While the commitment to play again is there and the emotions were clear Thursday, details for actually making it happen are not.

Among the hurdles to clear:

■ There remains an unresolved labor dispute with the 35-team league and the USL Players Union, which called Thursday’s vote a positive sign, but still wants to know how much the players will be paid.

■ Logistics for making a schedule — Trevisani says it will likely be 16 or 18 regular-season games and then playoffs — include different states and stadiums having different guidelines set up for the number of people allowed to gather (training for United in New Mexico at the moment remains limited to groups of five).

■ What about testing guidelines — both in advance of positive tests and plans for what happens if/when a player does test positive?

“We had to put a stake in the ground,” Trevisani said. “We had to set a gate post here somewhere. I think what the league is saying is, hey, we want to come back and play. We know we have a lot of issues we need to work out, but we need to let people know we are going to play first, then work the details out after that decision is made first.”

As for the return of fans to Isotopes Park, that likely won’t be anytime soon, at least not to the large crowd norms the team enjoyed in its debut season.

The USL, without an established league-wide broadcast deal to generate revenue, is a live-event, at-the-gate sort of business that needs fans in the stands to make money. And that could play a role in what teams get more home matches in the reworked schedule because states have very different guidelines in place on the numbers of people allowed in group settings.

“Obviously, just like a lot of businesses in New Mexico, we’re going to lose a tremendous amount of money this year,” Trevisani said “But we’re committed to community and we’re committed to our long-term vision. We talk a lot about this team being here for the next hundred years.”

Trevisani is a member of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Economic Recover Council, which is helping establish the parameters of New Mexico’s reopening. He says that has not put him in any conflict with matters related to large public gatherings — the ones needed for fans in the stands or even just the number of people to play a soccer match in an otherwise empty stadium.

“The first thing I said to the (Economic Recovery) Council when we started working through protocols for phase one, phase two, phase three, I said look, New Mexico United, just so everybody knows, we’re going to be the caboose. We’re going to be the last guys to reopen. We have so much to work on to get fans back in the stadium. … A lot of the stuff we’ve talked about in phase one has nothing to do with events and crowds. And I’ve been very supportive of the governor’s stance, which is five people working out (for now).”

FROM THE PLAYERS: The USL Players Association, which wants higher minimum play than proposed by owners for not only the return to play for this season, but long-term as well, released the following statement on Thursday:

“While there has been no agreement reached regarding proposed economic relief or return to play protocols, we view today’s vote as a positive first step for the League in articulating what a season may look like. Players remain hopeful for a continuation of the 2020 season. We continue to work with all Players to ensure that any potential return to play is done in a manner that is safe and responsible.”

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