The problem is that these are not the accomplishments of our community; in fact, they’re not really accomplishments at all. They are wonderful and important things, things that certainly enrich our local community and culture, but they aren’t achievements that we can collectively, meaningfully stand behind or define our community by (green chile might be an exception to that).
What New Mexico needs, and has needed, is something to unite a diverse, but not inherently different, society under a shared sense of identity. Something that we can all feel embodies us; something that proudly represents us and our state.
At long last, it looks like that nebulous ideal might be realized—in the form of a professional soccer team. A group of exuberant supporters, community leaders and public officials (including Tim Keller) gathered together on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the announcement of New Mexico as the home of the latest expansion club to the United Soccer League (USL).
The USL is our rapidly-expanding second tier of professional soccer, and the site of some compelling developments that promise a bright future for the sport in the States. The size of the league has doubled since 2014, and streaming agreements with ESPN have allowed the league to extend to an impressive viewership of over 84 million enthusiasts. As the USL gains traction and attention, their relationship with Major League Soccer teams, as well as foreign leagues, will continue to grow, immensely adding to the profile and power of soccer in America.
Cities across the country are clamoring and contending for the privilege of hosting new USL teams in their hometowns, so it is incredibly exciting that New Mexico has been elected as the home of one of four new USL teams for the 2019 season—and it is even more exciting that the people in power are devoted to the team not as a money-making venture, but as a community-building one.
Peter Trevisani—a former partner and managing director for Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe and the soccer club’s new CEO and President—has gathered an impressive team of passionate, experienced local leaders and owners to help him lead the movement.
Trevisani has spoken compellingly about his belief in USL New Mexico’s potential to act as a “vehicle for community engagement and the catalyst for systemic change,” and every indication affirms that, for him and for the club, the vision is about so much more than soccer itself.
Following the precedent set by Albuquerque Sol FC, USL New Mexico has stated its dedication to supporting the community as thoroughly as possible—through sponsorships and partnerships, support for local youth football clubs, and by giving the people the opportunity to name their own team (suggestions are welcome online).
The club’s first season will kick off in March 2019; there is a lot to figure out before then, but plenty of time to do it. For the first season, at least, the team will play at Isotopes Park—and the cooperation between these two teams is a very positive sign for the future of professional athletics in New Mexico.
Based on the economic impact experienced by other markets hosting newly-formed USL teams, the club expects that their first season will generate $5.5 million in revenue in its first year, as well as create 55 new jobs directly for the local community.
Perhaps most encouraging about this announcement, however, is the potential benefits a professional team can bring to youth soccer in New Mexico. USL New Mexico will create channels and avenues for the state to showcase the ample talent hiding in our youth soccer programs, which often lack the finances or national reputation to help their players excel into the college game and beyond.
Between the UNM soccer team, Albuquerque Sol FC, and the nascent USL New Mexico (catchier name forthcoming), aspiring youngsters across the state will finally have access to the stepping stones towards greatness, and New Mexico will finally be part of the path to pro.
These three organizations and teams will be vital to the fate of youth soccer in the state; I hope that this news will encourage the powers-that-be at UNM to strongly reconsider the notion of cutting the men’s soccer program. Without it, our local semi-pro and professional soccer teams will become estranged from the local community, and the path to greatness will be missing a truly essential step that forces our best players to leave the state.
We cannot be chasing those athletes away, particularly not when so many other groups and leaders are toiling to make Albuquerque a more inviting and more enticing home—and particularly not when so many players motivate themselves through their dream of representing their school and state in front of their friends and family.
In Trevisani’s words from the press conference: “A lot of people leave New Mexico because they can’t realize their hopes and dreams here. We want them to have a reason to stay connected to our state and be part of our local economy [and community].”
Let’s give them every reason to stay.