When in 2018 Soccer America checked in with Peter Trevisani, the president and majority owner of the USL Championship's New Mexico United, it had yet to play a game. Naturally, the investment banker was optimistic, and he spoke about a “100-year plan” with community engagement in one of the country’s poorest states. Five years on and a pandemic later, Trevisani displayed the same candor and optimism that he did the first time around. This time, with some results to show for it.
SOCCER AMERICA: Describe the roller-coaster you’ve been on the last five years?
PETER TREVISANI: How long of a ride do you want?
SA: Let's say three minutes.
PETER TREVISANI: Haha, OK. Well, when you haven't played a game yet, it's still just a hope and a dream.
When we stepped on the pitch the first night, it wasn't just the size of the crowd — around 13,000 people, a multiple of what we were hoping for — but it was the energy and the passion that we realized right away.
That this was about something way more than soccer — this was a chance for a perpetually underrepresented, under-appreciated and under-respected state to come together and make a collective statement in saying, 'We're here, we're good enough, and we're going to show the rest of the country what New Mexico is all about.'
That magic continued all year — we could spend hours talking about that first season. [In its inaugural season, New Mexico United led the league in average attendance with 12,693.]
But then Covid hit [in 2020], and boom — we're shut down. Out of all of the teams, we not only could not play home games without fans, we couldn't play home games. Period.
We weren't even allowed to practice under the state order. We played every game on the road and got to the second round of the playoffs. Financially, it was a disaster but emotionally it was a 10/10.
Last year, we were caught playing defense a lot. That wasn't our game. Three quarters of the way through the season we had a collective epiphany moment as an organization: that we need to get back on our front foot.
We started to turn that on and as we come into the year, we want to use that momentum and continue the messaging.
New Mexico United's 2023 USL Championship home opener, a 1-1 tie with the San Diego Loyal, drew a crowd of 11,233 to Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park. In 2022, it lead the league in average attendance with 10,724.
SA: New Mexico United has been pretty successful on the field, finishing just over or a few games over .500 in every season its played in. And of course, your club is better known for the epic 2019 Open Cup run, when you downed not one but two MLS teams. What makes that tournament so special — how important is it for America’s smaller soccer teams?
PETER TREVISANI: What I love about the Open Cup, and why I think it's so important, especially for a community like New Mexico, is that it's a true meritocracy. Everyone is included and can be included. All you have to do is win. There's no place to hide. Some teams have advantages depending on their league, I recognize that, but this is our chance to basically be the best team in America. We have that opportunity every single year. That's what we want in New Mexico. A chance to show everybody what we got.
SA: You’ve got an opportunity to avenge last year’s Open Cup second-round defeat to Phoenix Rising when you host on Wednesday night. You beat them as an expansion team in 2019 in the Open Cup. Can you help preview that matchup for us?
PETER TREVISANI: The first year was interesting because Phoenix was really one of the most feared teams in the league. We were the expansion team and we won in a shootout. We shocked a team that was supposed to beat us. We used that as a jumping off point to go to Colorado and get a win in extra time there.
It's going to be super exciting and we're excited to host them — our goal is to win the Open Cup and we're going to give it everything we've got.
New Mexico United captain Sam Hamilton mingles with the fans.
SA: Describe the competition in the USL Championship this year, and how the league is different without the MLS affiliates who moved to MLS Next Pro?
PETER TREVISANI: It is fierce. The league is incredibly competitive and there are no easy outs. While you played the [MLS affiliate] teams and you knew you could be beat, you felt that over time you were going to win way more of those games than you were going to lose.
Some of the [MLS affiliate] teams are tougher than others, no doubt about it. But knowing that there was an opponent that really deep down didn't have winning as a No. 1 priority, that they had other goals? It's different.
Now, every opponent wants to win every game no matter what it takes. There's no other goal except three points. The level of competition is intense. The level of play has grown exponentially since 2019.
That's also why I think you see more upsets with USL and MLS teams in the Open Cup, because I just think the level of competition is consolidated. Especially if an MLS team doesn't run out their top 11 and play them a full 80 or 90 minutes — you're going to see a lot of upsets.
You're going to see a tight leaderboard and it's just going to make every team better, including ours.
When New Mexico United launched in 2018 for the 2019 season, it also created the Somos Unidos Foundation, which has supported various programs including for youth soccer development, New Mexico schools, healthcare organizations — hosting blood drives and Covid vaccination campaigns — artists and restaurant workers.
SA: What is the status of your academy?
PETER TREVISANI: We have a fully scholarshipped academy, which is an incredible responsibility and gift. It works because we have an ownership group that's committed because we have corporate sponsors that are committed.
We have youth soccer players and youth clubs that understand that this might mean that some of our best players might come from a paid system into this but that's what's good for New Mexico.
Alex Waggoner, an 18-year-old high school student, played his first pro minutes in Monterey and we're excited to see where his journey goes.
The last thing I'll say about the academy, a subtle point but an important one:
It's not that it never happened, but it was so hard to be scouted as a New Mexican youth soccer player unless you had a lot of money. If you had a lot of money, you could fly to California and go up to Colorado and be seen. But if you didn't have those means, very few college coaches were coming through.
Because of that, the vast majority of these boys — we'd love to have a women's academy down the road — went through high school never thinking that college soccer was an option. They thought they'd go get a job or join the military.
Now we have 13- and 14-year-olds who come up and say, 'I want to play for United. I want to be on the academy team.' They know to be on the academy team, they need grades. What we're doing is one positive outcome at a time that's going to have an exponential impact in the future.
These young men are going to go to college now. Some may be pros, most won't, but now they're going to get an education. Ideally, they come back into the community as role models. It's like a snowball, so that 100 years from now, we've changed a whole mindset.
That's the dream, and it's not just aspirational — it's happening. In the last two-and-a-half years, we've sent almost 30 academy graduates to play in college. I can't promise you what that number would've been, but it would've been a fraction.
SA: Talk about the stadium project — in 2021 the public vote to fund the stadium lost by an almost 2-1 margin. Were you surprised by those results? What's the status of a soccer-specific stadium for United?
PETER TREVISANI: It wasn't really a 'no' to a soccer stadium, it was a 'no' to using that vehicle. The plan the city put forward for the stadium was the same one they used for the baseball stadium and so they thought it would go through.
We're leading a stadium search using private funding for the stadium and then using a public partnership to try and figure out if there are public pieces to it. The latest is that we may use seven acres of the 360-acre balloon fiesta park, which is a city-owned park, for the stadium. There's about 13,000 parking spots right now. A lot of the infrastructure is already in place — it's kind of like a fairgrounds.
It's a great way to say, 'We heard no, the city heard no, and now we've regrouped and put another plan in place that addresses those needs and still creates a facility that can be used for soccer.'
We have a long way to go, and there are landmines all over the place. We just gotta make sure we navigate those with all of our constituents — but at the end of the day, when we kick the ball in our home stadium for the first time, it's going to send a signal to everybody in New Mexico that even the biggest hopes and most impossibly sounding dreams can come true.
Photos: Courtesy of New Mexico United by Juan Lebreche and Josh Lane.