The sun officially set on the Albuquerque Sol’s first season Saturday night but not without a couple of lightning strikes.
Nathaniel Pacheco and Isaiah Madrid netted a pair of crowd-pleasing goals to write a positive ending for the fledgling minor league soccer team. The Sol defeated the BYU Cougars 2-1 in front of a season-best home crowd of 1,528 at St. Pius’ Ben Rios Field.
Albuquerque’s Premier Developmental League entry finished 3-5-6 and will not advance to the playoffs. Record aside, however, it was hard to call the season anything but a success.
“It’s been really cool, like a dream come true for me,” Sol President Ron Patel said. “A year and a half ago I was sitting on the couch thinking, ‘We need a semipro soccer team.’ Now here we are, finishing 10th in the country in attendance in a 64-team league. Not bad at all.”
The season’s final night got off to an inauspicious start when a lightning alarm sounded eight minutes before the scheduled starting time. Fans were directed into the adjacent St. Pius High School gym and waited it out for more than 30 minutes.
But when they returned to the stands, the evening took on a celebratory feel.
First, the Sol and fans paid tribute to former University of New Mexico standout Pat Grange, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2012. The Sol retired Grange’s UNM jersey No. 4 and presented a jersey to some of his family members at halftime, but the tribute didn’t stop there.
Sol players warmed up for the game in T-shirts with Grange’s name and number on the back, and the first 250 fans to arrive received identical shirts.
All fans entering were handed white sheets of paper with the No. 4 printed in black and held them up during a moment of silence in the game’s fourth minute. That included perhaps 100 BYU fans who made the trip from Provo, Utah, for the match.
The Sol also used the game to raise money for ALS research, conducting a raffle and selling additional Grange T-shirts.
“We’ve coordinated with different nonprofits for every home game,” Patel said, “and this one’s really kind of special to the soccer community in Albuquerque.”
On the field, the Sol seemed to draw extra inspiration from the evening’s festivities. The playoff-bound Cougars pressed the attack early, but Sol goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez made a pair of dazzling first-half saves to keep the game scoreless until late in the first half.
Albuquerque finally broke through when a shot by Madrid was deflected back to Pacheco, who blasted the rebound into the net in the 43rd minute.
The Sol made it 2-0 in the 56th minute when Pacheco turned past a BYU defender in the left corner and blistered a low shot into the goal.
The Cougars made things tense in the final minutes after Winston Sorhaitz scored in the 75th minute. But the Sol managed to turn away several close scoring chances and left the field with a satisfying win.
Madrid, who was honored by the team’s official cheering sections at halftime, promised fans that the better seasons are ahead.
“It’s been a great experience playing for the Sol this year,” he said, “and I want to thank all the fans for your support. We’ll be better next year.”