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Are United, USL following return-to-play rules? Answers are vague

New Mexico United head coach Troy Lesesne talked about the stringent health-care protocols put in place. But this shot of a party tent next to the field during United’s Saturday win at Colorado Springs is a violation of USL Championship rules. (ESPN-Plus Screen Shot)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico United celebrated Saturday night in Colorado Springs and hopes to do so again Wednesday in El Paso.

The team’s 2-1 win over the Switchbacks FC on Saturday after a four-month coronavirus-induced hiatus to their 2020 season certainly made the one-to-a-seat, 380-mile bus ride south on Interstate 25 much more bearable.

But, a couple of hours into that return drive late Saturday, as the team crossed the Colorado/New Mexico state line near Raton, a whole other challenge presented itself.

As United left behind a state where they just played before an estimated 1,000 fans in attendance, most of whom were seen not wearing masks during the live video stream on ESPN-plus, the team returned to its home state. Here, the current executive order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won’t allow it to practice or play a home match until having completed a 14-day quarantine required of anyone entering the state.

“We’re trying to be vigilant about following the public health order as best we can, and those conversations are still ongoing right now between our club and the state, so with that said, though, our players are under, basically, a quarantine bubble to where the protocol from the USL is vastly more strict (than most people are facing),” United coach Troy Lesesne said Tuesday. “We test weekly and these guys are virtually in their apartment all the time until we go and play matches.”

He added, as team majority owner Peter Trevisani first expressed a couple of weeks ago, that United is a business as opposed to a recreational or school sport. Training and playing matches are, in fact, a part of their job.

An announced turnout of about 1,000 fans, mostly unmasked, watched United beat Switchbacks FC Saturday in Colorado. United plays Wednesday in El Paso. ESPN-PLUS SCREEN SHOT

But neither has said specifically if the team is practicing in New Mexico between matches, or planning to after Wednesday’s match in El Paso. United’s first three matches of their restarted season were Saturday in Colorado, Wednesday in El Paso and July 24 in El Paso.

Other than for essential business, the Governor’s executive order states: “Any person who is self-isolating or self-quarantining may only leave a residence or place of lodging to receive medical care and should not allow others into the residence or place of lodging except for those providing medical care, emergency response, or other individuals designated by the New Mexico Department of Health.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, told the Journal last week: “Under the requirements laid out in those (executive order) documents, they (United) are obligated … to quarantine for a period of 14 days or for the duration of their stay in the state, whichever is shorter.”

Meanwhile, both the team and the governor’s office have pointed to the stringent measures in the USL Championship league’s 50-page return-to-play plan as to evidence the team, with resources to test weekly and adhere to other measures, might be in a position to warrant special considerations.

But Saturday’s ESPN-plus streamed match in Colorado Springs called into question how well the USL’s plan is being enforced. At least two violations, albeit seemingly minor, were shown throughout:

• There was a party tent next to the field with maskless fans sitting at tables eating and drinking. Rule E-7-e states “Barstools, tables, chairs, etc. must also be removed in the team and premium areas.”

• 41 minutes into the match, stadium employees were seen leading fan chants before a close up of the stands showed very few fans wearing masks, but several taking part in the coordinated chant. Rule E-1-f states “Teams should take reasonable efforts to deter fans from singing or chanting.”

“If a situation arises in which a team violates either the league protocols, or those established by local and state health authorities, that feedback is delivered directly from the league to host clubs immediately following the match and includes the possibility for substantial disciplinary action,” a USL spokesman wrote in an email to the Journal. He would not answer if the league felt there were any violations in Colorado Springs.

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