A fair amount has happened in the days since New Mexico United’s last home match.
A global pandemic, new United States president, helicopter flights on Mars – just to hit a few of the headlines.
The span between home appearances finally ends Saturday at 574 days. After 20 consecutive matches outside its home state, United hosts Austin Bold FC in what promises to be an emotional homecoming at Isotopes Park.
For the first time since October of 2019, the ballpark’s playing surface has been transformed from baseball diamond to soccer pitch.
NMU players old and new discussed their long-awaited home match during Thursday’s media conference at the team’s Mesa del Sol training facility. Individual matchups and strategy were not primary topics of discussion.
“I’m excited times 100,” defender Kalen Ryden said of what will be his first home
appearance since signing with United in 2020. “The fan base was a major reason New Mexico United was so intriguing to me. To finally get a chance to play in front of our fans, it’s been a long time coming. I can’t wait.”
First-year midfielder Harry Swartz added, “I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”
Even United coach Troy Lesesne and striker Devon Sandoval, who have been with the club throughout its three-season history, acknowledged the buzz surrounding this week’s homecoming. New Mexico’s coronavirus restrictions forced NMU to play its entire season outside the state in 2020, but improved case numbers and vaccinations recently allowed the public health order protocols to be relaxed.
Ticket sales for Saturday’s match were approaching 7,000 on Thursday. Walk-up sales could allow United to approach the attendance limit of roughly 9,000 for its home opener.
“We’ve all been waiting for this,” Lesesne said. “Playing in front of our fans is something to experience, especially for the guys who haven’t been to The Lab yet. We’re so thankful this is finally in front of us and we’re going to take advantage of it, that’s for sure.”
Coming off a 1-1 draw at El Paso last weekend, United (0-1-1) could certainly use a victory and the three points that comes with it. Austin Bold FC is one of a handful of USL Championship teams that has not yet played a match this season.
Lesesne reiterated Thursday how much improvement he saw in NMU from its season-opening 1-0 loss at Rio Grande Valley FC to last week’s draw in El Paso. He wants the trend to continue this week.
“Against El Paso, we came out of the back with control very consistently,” he said. “That was a positive step. Now we need to translate that into more shot creation. Improving that area has been a focus for us at training this week.”
United came painfully close to earning a victory at El Paso, surrendering the tying goal late in an unusually lengthy six-minute span of extra time. Lesesne credited El Paso for its perseverance but said venue also played a role in the outcome.
“It we’re at the Lab in front of 8 or 9,000 of our fans,” he said, “we finish that game out, no question. This week we’ll finally get that experience, and I expect to get our first three home points in 574 days.”
VACCINES AVAILABLE: Beginning Saturday, United is teaming with the New Mexico Department of Health and Western Skies Community Care to offer COVID-19 vaccinations prior to every home match. Vaccinations will be available for 150 ticketholders in the NMU tailgate lot beginning at 3:30 p.m. Those receiving their first vaccination shot will get a voucher for a free ticket to a future United home match. Appointments are not required but pre-registration can be done in advance at VaccineNM.org.