The Prospector

USL soccer has a home in El Paso

Adrian Broaddus, Copy Editor

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Last week, United Soccer League (USL) and MountainStar Sports Group (MSSG) announced that the Division II American Soccer League will find a new home in the Sun City starting in 2019.

The news came as a surprise to some, but not to all. The idea of a soccer team coming to El Paso has been in the works since 2014, and MountainStar Sports Group has been proactive on the development ever since.

Now this isn’t about some conspiracy master plan from MSSG to bring a soccer team under everyone’s nose, or a plan to displace people with a new stadium downtown in the Duranguito neighborhood. This is about another opportunity for El Paso to grow economically, improve its quality of life and continue the improvement of the city’s overall look.

“I’ve seen the impact sports can have on a community,” MSSG President Alan Ledford said. “El Paso is a great example of that. Sports bring communities together.”

It’s true, sports do bring communities together. Bringing a USL soccer team to El Paso will continue that, and as Ledford said at the press conference, it will allow outsiders to see what the culture is like in El Paso.

Now the big question is, will it work? Can a community like El Paso sustain a club soccer team like this and continue to come out for each game? Based off the area’s demographics and socioeconomic status, yes, this will work, despite what naysayers may say.

At the Division II level, this will be the highest level of soccer El Paso’s seen in its history. USL works with Major League Soccer (MLS) and some players even go off from the USL to MLS to play at an even higher level. President of USL Jake Edwards called USL the “Triple-A baseball of soccer,” in terms of level of competition.

In the USL, there are currently 33 teams in the U.S. and two international teams. El Paso will join a four-team expansion, along with Austin, Birmingham and Memphis. The team will likely play in a Southwest conference, regularly playing clubs from Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Austin.

The Sun City team will start its inaugural season in March of 2019 and likely play its first season in Southwest University Park, sharing the stadium with the Chihuahuas.

In the past, El Paso has supported semi-pro teams like the Patriots, who played in the Premier Developmental League from 1989-2013, and more recently the El Paso Coyotes, who are a Major Arena Soccer League club affiliate and have been active since 2016. Although the Coyotes struggle in their respective division, they have good following of fans, who come out for each game at the County Coliseum.

It won’t be a surprise when the USL El Paso team comes to the Sun City and its games are sold out, or if the El Paso team reaches among the highest attendance in the league. Edwards said at the introductory press conference that the average attendance is around 6,000, which is a very realistic goal El Paso can reach.

When the team arrives in 2019, they will have around 17 home games. No doubt that each of those games will be sold out, or close to selling out. Then comes to mind the novelty of getting a new stadium, which MSSG says could happen within two years. Once a new stadium is built and the team can play home games in its stadium, it will be yet another novelty for the team that will excite local fans.

When the novelty wears off, fans will still show up. Even after five years of play, people still come to see the Chihuahuas every game and they still manage to keep it entertaining for locals. Groups don’t even care about the quality of the sport, but come just for the entertainment.

With a USL team, the future looks even brighter for El Pasoans in terms of new possibilities. If El Paso can support this venture throughout its time here, there’s even more opportunity for a professional team to make a landing in the city. With a new stadium, it could house more boxing events, more concerts and even a UFC bout, which is something El Paso hasn’t seen the likes of.

According to Ledford, the USL club wants to start a soccer academy in El Paso to reach out to the community and unite the local kids in playing club soccer. That will add even more of an incentive to support this team.

This USL team is another new beginning for the city and its residents, and I believe fans from Cd. Juárez, Las Cruces and others areas around the region will come out to support this new franchise for years to come.

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USL soccer has a home in El Paso