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United’s 2020 return won’t look like this

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 )

It likely won’t be in front of fans, but a couple more steps toward New Mexico United returning to the pitch for games next month seemed to take place Wednesday.

First, the state’s second-year professional soccer organization announced protocols for ticket holders to either get a refund, roll over purchased tickets to the 2021 season or donate them to the newly-formed Somos Unidos Foundation.

Those contingency measures became necessary when the United announced Wednesday that most, if not all, of its home matches this year at Isotopes Park would occur without the team’s passionate fans.

The move was not a sign that the season won’t happen. Rather, it is one that indicates an acceptance that the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, despite being fluid and offering sometimes significant changes every few days, will likely create a scenario where large gatherings will be prohibited for matches this season. USL Championship has set a tentative restart date of July 11 to resume matches.

As United majority owner Peter Trevisani said, the “decision is critical to ensuring the health of our fans, players and staff,” adding that the team will work on “innovative” ways to bring fans together for matches, be it in a virtual setting or small groups possibly away from the stadium.

Maybe more significant in terms of there being soccer again, however, was news out of two major national news outlets – ESPN and The Athletic – on Wednesday that USL Championship, the league United plays in, and the USL Players Association have come to a tentative agreement on pay and safety measures to resume play this season. That would end, for now, an ongoing labor dispute that had put the resumption of play in jeopardy.

The “handshake deal,” as referred to by The Athletic, has not yet been ratified by both sides, but Trevisani told the Journal that while he was not yet familiar with the details of the tentative agreement – he is not on the particular ownership committee that has been in the negotiations – he is optimistic it can be completed this week.

While the USLPA had sought both short and longterm financial guarantees, the deal seems to be one that puts a fix to return-to-play concerns only for the 2020 season with no salary reductions, as owners had proposed. Minimum salary increases for a longterm collective bargaining agreement will still need to be established at a later date.

USLC has said it will likely have a 16-18 game schedule, plus playoffs.

So, too, are the terms of United’s sublease agreement for Isotopes Park, where the soccer team pays $13,000 per home match plus numerous other details based on stadium staffing and other game-day matters.

“We’re working through that with the Isotopes right now,” Trevisani said when asked if his team’s rent would be altered in any way for use of the stadium should matches take place without fans. “We’re confident we’ll find a resolution.”

Trevisani said he was taken aback by the response of United fans after the team’s announcement earlier in the day about ticket protocols. While he didn’t offer specifics, he said the amount of fans who chose to donate their tickey money to the team’s foundation has been impressive.

“We have the best people in the world here,” Trevisani said. “So, so responsive. So positive. We’ve had some tremendous donations and we’re going to end up funding our High-Performance Program (for youth soccer) for the next couple of years based on this. And while ultimately that’s revenue that the team isn’t going to get, it’s revenue that’s going to go back into our community and it’s going to drive so many positive outcomes for our next generation of boys and girls soccer players.”

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