To all the soccer fans living in the dream with the New Mexico United, here are some words of advice:
Enjoy it and embrace it, because moments like these don’t come often.
The cult hit won’t abate anytime soon, and that is good for both the soccer community and for New Mexico. For years, many sports fans in this state have yearned to show they can be a part of the big time.
It’s why UNM fans hold the men’s basketball program and the “world-famous” Pit so dearly, and New Mexico State fans cherish the 1969-70 men’s team that reached the Final Four. It’s refreshing to see the affinity Albuquerque Dukes and Isotopes fans had for the Los Angeles Dodgers transfer to the Colorado Rockies, to a degree.
You can’t fault New Mexicans for their loyalty. The Albuquerque Isotopes are consistently one of the top draws in Triple-A baseball because of it. Even though The Pit doesn’t get the crowds it used to in the good old days, there are moments when Lobo fans flex their muscles and show they can still be a force when the moment calls for it.
Of course, prep basketball fans flock to the venerated arena for one week in March to watch their hometown teams chase state championship glory, and you can always count on the fan bases in Northern New Mexico to show up in full force.
What’s happening with the United, though, feels different.
The support for the club comes from a different place. While the Isotopes promote the games as an event to get away from the workday grind and enjoy the national pastime, and UNM lauds its history and tradition to keep its fan base, the basis for the fandom with the United is more organic.
The organization has let the fans create the kind of atmosphere and tradition they wanted. And they did not disappoint with a 300-person strong support group in “The Curse” that led the way for the flag-waving, chanting and singing that accompanies these matches.
As opposed to the organ and cued music that tells fans when to chant at baseball games, or the piped-in howling that attempts to encourage Lobo fans to get into the spirit of things, the United let their fans to create the carnival-like scene that comes with every match.
It’s a quality the other major sports teams in Albuquerque should note. There is something to allowing the fans a sense of ownership of a team because they’ll find ways to take what might appear mundane and simple and turn it into something special and unique.
That’s not to denigrate the “in-game” events that you see at baseball, football and basketball games. The Isotopes’ chile pepper race is a staple that fans truly embrace, but the other events come off as gimmicky.
Don’t even start with the events UNM has during timeouts. Those have become tired — much like the interest in the school’s teams.
Here’s hoping the United’s rise is not some first-year flash in the pan. It’s too much fun to let slip away as a blip on the radar.
James Barron writes an opinion column about sports in New Mexico. Contact Barron at 505-986-3045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.