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As United preps for road playoff game, city takes step on a soccer-specific stadium

New Mexico United coach Troy Lesesne, shown in July in action in Colorado Springs, takes his team to El Paso Saturday for a playoff match. (Isaiah J. Downing/Colorado Switchbacks)

Friday afternoon had to feel a bit ironic for New Mexico United fans.

Just as the team was departing for its 17th consecutive road match, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller updated an ongoing project aimed at building the second-year professional soccer franchise a new home.

United is scheduled to play at El Paso on Saturday night in the USL Championship Western Conference semifinals. Normally a tenant of Minor League Baseball venue Isotopes Park for home games, NMU has been forced to play all of its matches on the road in 2020 because of New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions.

Still, Keller announced at least a small step forward in the process of building what he called a multi-purpose soccer facility. The city of Albuquerque has recommended a formal analysis and feasibility study to evaluate sites, determine costs and provide financing options.

“The pandemic and public safety are our top priorities now,” Keller said during an outdoor media conference at City Hall, “but it’s also important to think about the future of our city. We’re excited about the prospect of building a home for our New Mexico United and this is an opportune time to do this work.”

Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief operating officer, said seven firms responded to the city’s request for proposal (RFP). The city has recommended Creative Arts Agency Icon to do the feasibility study, and the City Council is expected to review the recommendation next week.

The feasibility study, to be funded by state capital outlay money, is expected to be completed 100 days after the project is awarded.

“This is really the first step,” Rael said, “but the process is moving forward.”

According to a press release issued Friday by the Keller administration, the stadium is projected to seat between 10,500 and 15,000 fans with a natural grass field designed for professional soccer. It could also include an art/cultural center, which could house various exhibits, cultural and community events, and/or commercial retail space and housing.

Keller emphasized that the facility will be soccer specific but not limited to pro soccer.

“It will be a city stadium,” he said, “but we hope it’s the future home of our New Mexico United.”

Keller said he would prefer to see the facility built on a 5- to 10-acre plot in the “core of the city, anywhere within a fair radius of the Big I.”

New Mexico United led the USL Championship in home attendance in 2019, helping owner/CEO Peter Trevisani drum up support for a new home stadium. Several state legislators have publicly backed the project.

Earlier this season, Trevisani arranged to hold a “home” match for United fans in Colorado Springs, offering all of the 1,000 available tickets to NMU fans. A crowd of 878 fans made the trip, encouraging Trevisani in his quest for a permanent home.

“We are beyond excited the City is taking this next step in building a world class multi-purpose soccer stadium,” Trevisani said in Friday’s statement.

Keller said his administration has looked into at nearby stadium projects for inspiration, including a facility being constructed in Colorado Springs and the larger MLS home of the Colorado Rapids in the Denver area. Costs for Albuquerque’s stadium project have been estimated at $100 million, but Keller declined to offer a potential price tag.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about specific dollar amounts now, during a pandemic,” he said. “That’s part of what we want from the feasibility study, to narrow down (the) range of that final price tag .”

READY TO GRIND: After battling through four regular-season meetings, United and rival El Paso Locomotive FC are well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. NMU coach Troy Lesesne believes the stage is set for a physical grind Saturday night at Southwest University Park.

“The last time we played El Paso (a scoreless draw on Sept. 26) was very physical, kind of ugly at times,” Lesesne said. “I’d anticipate more of the same. We’re both very committed to our systems and we know each other extremely well. It’ll be a scrap.”

There’s been little separation between United and El Paso, who split their previous meetings (one win apiece, two draws), but NMU striker Devon Sandoval is a potential difference-maker. Three of Sandoval’s four goals this season came against Locomotive FC.

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