After Team USA's incredible win last Monday night, the country seems primed to love soccer again—right on time.
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.