And since local is the best reflection of the national, this is an apt time to mention that Albuquerque is developing their own semi-professional soccer team, the Sol FC.
In an exclusive interview with the Alibi, Sol FC General Manager Larry Espinoza shared his vision for the future of the team in Albuquerque, reveled in a bit of local pride and reflected on the beginning of this year's World Cup and this new venture in the 505.
The Sol opened their inaugural season on May 3 in Las Vegas, playing against the Mobsters of the USL Premier Developmental League (PDL). Before that, though, there was a lot of work before the season began—and before the team was even formed. Espinoza says that he and Ron Patel, president of the team, have put in the work, but they haven't been alone. The team runs with the help of an extensive network of volunteers: everyone from high school students to a social media guru, running both the official Twitter account as well as their Instagram.
Albuquerque Sol FC may be merely a fourth-tier team this year, but Espinoza says the attendance in our fair city is smashing the competition. “The average [attendance] for PDL is 200. Our first home game, we had more than our five opponents’ previous games combined.” Not surprising, given the documentation of fans' desire for a local, professional soccer team.
However, the transition up the ranks of the PDL obviously will not—and cannot—happen overnight. Espinoza says the plan is to continue to move up the ranks: “Probably not next year, but maybe the year after, really make a push to go USL Pro.” That, however, will involve getting a 5,000-seat stadium into the picture. So the team and its affiliates plan to go before the New Mexico State Legislature. “We'll do our homework. We'll go before the legislature again this February. We believe we'll get the money. There's a lot of things that have to be included to build an MLS team. We believe we can build that.”
The biggest signs that this team is already a success, though, can't be counted, unlike attendance figures. Nor can those successes be summarized as succinctly as Espinoza's repeated afirmations. The true success of the team shines when you get to see a game in person, where you'll hear the PA guy 'sponsoring' yellow cards with bail bonds companies and hear about a highlighted charity at each game. The intensely personal feel of both the physical and mental spacemakes this a truly Albuquerque team.
That local spotlight will grab an even bigger stage at the last home game of the season on Saturday July 12. Espinoza claims, “If you played soccer in Albuquerque, you know the name Pat Grange.” Grange was a local soccer legend, whose tragic diagnosis with ALS led to his untimely death at 29 years of age. ESPN showcased his story recently. The game on Saturday, July 12 will be dedicated to Pat Grange and the Albuquerque Sol FC will retire his jersey. Espinoza says he's in talks to make sure Grange's parents are guests of honor. And the charity the Sol will be partnering with for their last home game? The ALS Association.
As a great way to celebrate the legacy of soccer in the city of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico, the Sol FC's last home game stands head and shoulders above any other options. And, while you're at the game, think about what this team could mean for the future as well.
The Sol have five home games remaining, all of which are played on the Ben Rios field at St. Pius high school. Tickets can be obtained at the gate for $10 on game day. Children's tickets are only $5, and they can both be bought ahead of time online, but you will pay a handling fee.
When UNM was tossed from the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance didn't stop. Last weekend, the tourney was whittled down to the Final Four. The University of Florida Gators, the Wisconsin Badgers, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies are the the last four teams left in Division I college basketball. Of these last four teams, there is only one number one seed left: the top team overall, Billy Donovan's crew.
Kentucky has proved the pre-season hype to be justified, defying the odds of an 8 seed. Coach Calipari has coaxed the most out of his powerful, notably Aaron Harrison. Harrison knocked in a 3 ball with 2.3 second left to upset 2-seed Michigan on Sunday night. The Wildcats entered the season with hefty expectations but failed to live up on them for the majority of the slog. With 10 losses, the season could have been seen as a letdown; until March Madness began. After knocking out previously unbeaten Wichita State and intrastate rival Louisville, the team seems to be playing their best ball at the perfect time.
The Connecticut Huskies, on the other hand, may have also been ranked for much of the beginning of the season, but never had the expectations of Big Blue foisted upon them. UConn, content to fly under the radar for much of the season, dominated trendy pre-Tourney pick, Michigan State on Sunday. While the final margin was only six points, UConn seemed to be in control of their destiny for the majority of the game. This has been the case since they needed overtime o take out St. Joe's in the first round of the Tournament. Shabazz Napier, the senior guard from Storrs, has put the team on his back, and his free throws seemed to clinch the game.
The aforementioned, overall number one seed Florida cruised past the previous upset-minded Dayton Flyers. This is nothing new for the Gators, who won it all in 2007 and have been to the Elite Eight for the last three years in a row. Florida's coach, Billy Donovan, has been here before and seems poised – at least mathematically – for a run to the championship.
However, the team that the majority of the nation has rallied around by far is Wisconsin. The Badgers have shown tremendous tenacity and the play of Frank Kaminsky is a big part of their overtime victory against the West Region 1 seed Arizona Wildcats. Although Wisconsin entered the post-season as a 2 seed, most pundits overlooked the team in their predictions of who would be left standing at this time of the year.
The semifinal matches will be played on Saturday night, with both games televised on TBS. The final matchup, for the national championship, will take place on Monday, April 7. If your bracket is busted, take comfort in the knowledge that so is everyone else's and enjoy some quality basketball.
The Holly Holm train is pulling into the Route 66 Casino tonight where the legendary boxer will face her seventh opponent in chain-link cage, as she continues her new MMA career. Holm has been courted by the UFC in recent weeks, though her management supposedly pissed off Dana White, presumably for asking for too much money (though it should be noted that White gets pissed if the wind blows).
The last time Holm fought, I had recommended that you go see her because it may be your last chance to see her fight in Albuquerque, before she gets swept up by the UFC. But this time, it seems like the opposite is true. If Holm continues to circle outside the UFC, she’ll probably be back at the 66 for at least another fight. If she joins the show and signs with the UFC, it might be in time for the June 7 card, headlined by Diego Sanchez vs Ross Pearson.
Such speculation, of course, is dependent on her winning tonight, which is a safe bet. But things will get interesting if the fight goes to the mat, where Holm is much less comfortable and experienced.
Holm may not want to go to the ground, but that’s what the world needs to see—if not this fight, then some other future fight—before she can be taken seriously as a threat to the UFC Bantamweight title held by Ronda Rousey. The champ has won most of her fights by arm bar, and would look to do the same against the Duke City striker. The best thing that could happen for Holly in this fight would be to slam Werner to the mat and submit her, preferably by arm bar. If she does that and calls out Rousey, Dana White would pee, a little bit anyway, in his pants.
But should Holm win, there is another high-profile fight that will be on her more immediate horizon: Christiana “Cyborg” Justino, the only other female MMA fighter outside the UFC who generates a buzz on par with Holm’s. According to her trainer Mike Winkeljohn, they will be trying to make this happen should Holly win.
I'm just saying: if Holly wins, her vs Cyborg on the June 7th card would tear the roof off of Tingly Coliseum, dontcha think?
Several teammates of "The Preacher's Daughter" will be on the card tonight, including Jackson-Winkeljohn products Clint Roberts and Nick Urso, two homegrown beasts you want on your side. Jesse Tafoya of Wink’s Gym, where Holm teaches and trains, is on the preliminary card.
The main card starts at 9 pm, and takes place at the Rt. 66 Casino on I 40. It will also be on AXSTV. The preliminary card starts at 7:30, and can only be witnessed live.
See you there, so look for the drunk guy in the Hawaiian shirt, and come say "hi."