The Expansion Ramble continues and takes us to a hidden artistic gem deep in the American Southwest.
With expansion news coming hot and heavy recently, we, Brian Cook and Richard Rainwater, are taking a look at each of the new teams gearing up to begin play in the USL Championship. We will be covering the teams already announced to join the league and will be looking at how the teams can be successful, what struggles they face, and what we think the outcomes will be.
It’s the Expansion Ramble! And we’re glad you’re here to join us on our final stop in the Land of Enchantment, whose adobe buildings and multi-lingual population give a magical backdrop for a team looking to bring their community together.
The Land of the Zia Sun is home to adobe buildings, vibrant arts, and a history that is rich in conquest, inclusion, and identity all their own. The state, which has been a part of Spain, Mexico, Native American territory and the United States, takes pride in the many cultures that have come together to create the fabric of the modern day state. As New Mexicans prepare to welcome their newest professional soccer team, fans can only hope that the name New Mexico United comes to represent what has made this state one-of-a-kind.
What will make this team successful?
As alluded to in the introduction, New Mexicans take a certain pride in uniting different cultures. So despite my previous criticism surrounding the use of “United” branding, I think it can actually work well for the team. Going off of this theme can give them a way to make deep connections with the various communities across the state. LGBTQ, minority groups, the arts community, and others are key components in New Mexican culture, and utilizing their branding properly can make sure New Mexico United attracts fans and gains a solid foothold in the state’s landscape.
The team, though it shares a facility with the local AAA baseball team, has plans for a soccer-specific stadium already in the works. In fact, the club is part of a larger project that was started by the League Two team in town, which aimed to eventually expand to Major League Soccer. This ambition and the plans that come with it should help the team avoid stagnation in the market and can result in the long-term success that stadiums and infrastructure can bring.
We’ve looked at ownership groups through each of the teams we’ve profiled and United’s setup is one that should bode well for their long-term success. While the group is different than the League Two side that was already present, they have brought one of the founders on board to work for United. This brings something that many expansion teams don’t have: intimate knowledge on how to run a successful soccer team in their market. Rather than attempting to copy the AAA baseball playbook for the market, New Mexico already knows how to get people excited for their product. This knowledge can only be a positive, especially in their formative years, and will help guide their decision making in the right direction.
Finally, United will have strong rivalries right out of the gate. Being a team in the Southwest can be difficult on that front, as travel is often long and arduous. But New Mexico fans have already struck a solid rivalry with fellow expansion side El Paso and will be competing for the Four Corners Cup against Colorado Springs, Phoenix, and Real Monarchs. These games breed excitement, especially when a cup is involved, and will help maintain excitement past the honeymoon phase.
Quietly the west has begun to spawn and grow a strong expansion team. New Mexico United hasn’t had your usual flashy signings an expansion team might have but they have built a strong and competent roster. The signing of Santi Moar from Bethlehem Steel could end up being the under the radar pick as Moar can pose multiple threats on the field. Along with the roster they have built, New Mexico recently released their kits which have garnered a massive amount of praise and a borderline viral reaction as social media erupted in excitement.
I think New Mexico United’s best move is how subtle they have managed themselves in the public eye. In years past, teams have tried to drop bombs and big moves to buy 15 minutes of attention but New Mexico has shown they have the right mindset in order to keep themselves from doing something like that. From the kit to strong signings they seem set to be a competent team on and off the field.
What will make this team struggle?
Being the biggest game in town seems like a benefit, but can also be a warning sign for new teams starting in markets that other leagues have passed over. United will need to continue bringing in new fans in a market that doesn’t have a vibrant sports scene. That can prove to be difficult, especially if residents of Albuquerque don’t catch “soccer fever” and stick with the team during lean years. For citizens that are used to living in a city without major professional sports, the success or failure of a local team may not have the same emotional consequences. It will be a major imperative for United to connect to fans, or they run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
The ownership’s ambitions can result in infrastructure and long-term success if it is channeled toward building the team they currently have. If they focus on the loftier goal of getting into MLS, however, it can be possible that the team fails to build a solid foundation to be successful at the Championship level. We’ve seen many owners go “all-in” on achieving their MLS dreams, with the current clubs suffering as a result. If they aren’t willing to build an appropriately-sized stadium or invest in an academy/reserve team, there’s a chance United can end up with owners that are frustrated by their lack of progress and choose to move on instead. That uncertainty can kill a team’s momentum and ultimately lead to even the strongest team’s demise.
Like 901 FC, for New Mexico United to avoid struggling they need to manage to keep moving forward. Don’t stray from the path that you’ve built. On the back of the kit releases, keeping things from a marketing side subtle and authentic will allow you to continue to grow without seeming detached from the state.
New Mexico United being the only team in their state, like previously mentioned expansion sides, is a risk in it of themselves. You obviously from a marketing perspective can’t present yourself as the alternative when there isn’t something to be the alternative of. New Mexico United has to continuing to press the gas down on their momentum and avoid getting lost in a western conference that can be easy to get lost in.
What do you think is more likely with this team: MLS Expansion, Successful Championship side, Future League One Superstars, Soon-to-be ghost of American soccer past?
New Mexico United has a solid ownership group, ambitious plans for long-term success, and branding that appeals to the unique cultural makeup of the state. They have done well to bring all New Mexicans into the fold, and their off-field moves have appeared to be the right ones, so far. As long as the team doesn’t get caught up in the “MLS or Bust” mindset, they could build something really special in the desert and should be a solid Championship side for years to come.
Like 901 FC, New Mexico United has every reason to be considered a long term successful Championship side. I think for the market that they are in as well as the general build-up of their team they can easily ground themselves and settle a foundation in USL Championship. New Mexico United doesn’t have many holes to poke in and seems strong enough that it won’t drift off into the night. Between a strong starting roster, a solid kit reveal, the future is strong for New Mexico’s professional team.
If you liked this article, you’ll love the rest of the series. Check out our takes on Austin, Birmingham, Chicago, El Paso, Hartford, Loudoun, and Memphis, and drop us a line with your comments on how you think these teams will fare.
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