The BBQ is surprisingly really good but great tacos are harder to find than you’d think. Everything is turquoise, and the people there are crazy in love with a USL Championship club.
It’s a wild combination that’s created an intoxicating elixir in one of the beating hearts of the old Southwest. At New Mexico United, soccer, native art and community passions swirl and simmer until the mix just takes your breath away.
“We didn’t know what it was going to look like when we kicked a ball in the first game, but we really hoped it would be much more than soccer and something that would represent the community and be something that brought people together,” said the ever-energetic club CEO and President Peter Trevisani (pictured at the top of this story).
And just like the magic that sprinkles and settles on all New Mexicans in the golden hour of sunset, this football club was empowered by something almost mystical from the start.
Early Cupset Kings
New Mexico United jumped into professional soccer in 2019 and immediately went to work leading the USL Championship in average attendance and selling out their primary home facility, Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park – nicknamed ‘The Lab’ – with 15,023 spectators on May 5, 2019.
In the club’s first appearance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, New Mexico United bested two Major League Soccer franchises (Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas) on their way to a Quarterfinal appearance.“When you’re in the Open Cup, nobody cares about where you’re from,” Trevisani said. “The only thing that matters is the score at the end of the game, and when we went out and beat a couple of USL teams before we beat Colorado Rapids on the road, and we beat FC Dallas on the road, and we got through to the final eight, it was clear that we were just good at soccer. Period, the end.”
“We’re good enough and the whole world, or at least the country, knew that New Mexico was about more,” added Trevisani, a tireless advocate for the club he’s helped build.
For that Quarterfinal match, which New Mexico United eventually lost at eventual runners-up Minnesota United FC, the team chartered nearly 200 fans for a flight from Albuquerque.
“People had gravitated toward the team,” Trevisani explained. “They love soccer and they love New Mexico, and they want to have a common rally point. And there’s nothing more American than a whole tournament that’s based on meritocracy [the Open Cup].”
The buzz was real, and it turned into a statewide hum that not even a global pandemic could stifle.
Artful by design
Known the world over for their shirtfront sponsor Meow Wolf, a production company that specializes in immersive contextual experiences, New Mexico United’s connection to art and culture is a primary driver of the club’s local popularity.
“Blending art and sport was always a big part of New Mexico United from that start [and] New Mexico has a deep and rich tradition of soulful artists across all kinds of demographics -- from street painters in Albuquerque to Native Americans crafting jewelry,” Trevisani said.The club’s crest may seem like a simple yellow shield with four black lines, but the design is based on the Zia symbol, found on the state flag and used with the permission of the Zia people.
“We have so many artists here and most don’t get recognized for the quality of their work,” Trevisani went on. “We want to highlight some of the best art in the world, not just because it’s from New Mexico.”
Behind the scenes, New Mexico United’s front office creatives work with scores of native artists to curate design elements for home matches. The same goes for events and fan experiences at the team’s store in a cozy pocket of downtown Albuquerque.
“Art for me is so much like soccer,” said Trevisani. “When you’re looking at a piece of art or you’re looking at a soccer match it doesn’t matter where you were born or what language you speak, what your sexuality is or who you voted for in the last election -- what matters is that you’re moved by what you see and it inspires you at the level of your heart and soul.”
He added: “That’s true if it’s a piece of art you’re interacting with or New Mexico United soccer club, so I have a deep belief in both.”
Cup Runneth Over
By far the biggest sporting enterprise in New Mexico, success is measured in metrics determined by Trevisani himself.
“I think sometimes while we run businesses we spend too much time analyzing the spreadsheets and not enough time analyzing what our community needs and how we can be of service to our community,” he said. “Sometimes when your goal is to be of service to your communities that can actually make the spreadsheets look pretty good as a residual of the process and not a driver of the process.”In 2021, then 17-year-old Cristian Nava became the first New Mexico United Academy player to sign a professional contract with the club. In 2022, New Mexico United U-23s played an innovative home schedule of matches at different locations throughout the state.
“If we put on a different set of glasses with a different set of lenses and tilt your head a little to the right or left, I think they’d see it clear as day, and I hope we can do our part to inspire that chance across the country,” Trevisani said.
The club’s quest for public funding for its own facility failed by a 2-to-1 margin in a state-wide ballot measure last November, but that has not deterred Trevisani.
“The fact is that there was a vote, we heard ‘no’ on a publicly-funded stadium, and that was the night I slept the best of the whole election season,” Trevisani said. “The next day we got up and got on a call and put our heads together and said, ‘What’s next? Let’s pivot. How are we going to fund this privately?’ It might look different.
“It might be in a different location, but the reality is we’re going to keep fighting for our home and this is a 100-year vision,” Trevisani continued. “And having a facility that we know that we can curate and count on is a big part of how we guarantee that plan.”
Like art, rivalries are created
New Mexico United are off to a hot start in the 2023 Open Cup as they try to recreate the heroics of 2019. After routing amateurs UDA Soccer of Las Cruces in this year’s Open Cup Second Round, they bested local rivals and USL Championship league mates Phoenix Rosing to book a place in the Round of 32.
“When you have games that count [and] when there’s passion, rivalries are born,” said Trevisani. “When you’re playing Phoenix Rising in the Open Cup, sort of the prima donna team with the highest payroll and most high-profile players. With [Didier] Drogba [who played with there in 2017-18] Phoenix had an attitude and we went out and beat them.”
Up next for this unique – and driven – side from the Southwest is a test on the road against Austin FC of MLS. The Texans are still looking for a first win in Open Cup play and, with New Mexico United’s recent successes in the competition, this should be one to watch on May 10th.
“The U.S. Open Cup really captures that intensity because New Mexico has a history that we’re not good enough,” Trevisani said. “That we rank last on the good list and first on the bad list, and there are so many people in this state that reject that narrative and want to focus on the good things, and we have so, so many of them.”
“New Mexico is a place where we punch above our weight,” he added. “And in the first year of the Open Cup we actually manifested that and it revealed itself on the pitch when we got to the final eight.
Dennis Pope writes about local sports for the SoCal Newspaper Group and serves in a communications role for both NISA Nation and the Southwest Premier League. Follow him at @DennisPope on Twitter.