Enthusiastic Santa Fe crowd cheers United's U-23 team despite 2-1 loss to Salt City

Jun. 10—Santa Fe will never be mistaken for sports hubs like Boston, Los Angeles or New York, but Thursday presents a rare opportunity for would-be fans to feel like there's more than one item on the local sports menu.

The Somos Unidos Tour found a happy landing Thursday night in Santa Fe.

With a crowd of 426 fans looking on, the New Mexico United's U-23 development squad made an appearance in the City Different, hosting Salt City SC in a semi-pro soccer match at Capital High School. It's the second of five home matches the team will play outside of its Albuquerque headquarters this season.

Sure, the U-23s lost Thursday's contest, 2-1, after surrendering a pair of second-half goals. Yes, it left U-23s coach Luke Sanford a bit irritated at the breakdowns that led to a loss.

"They have grit, they have resilience, they definitely have that," Sanford said. "We just need to be smarter in handling some moments, you know? Conceding on set pieces really, really frustrate me all the time. It's a controllable moment, so we need to do better on that. To be fair, the way we're playing is asking a lot of some of these guys, but I don't want it to be easy."

In truth, the score didn't seem to matter all that much to a good portion of the crowd. For dozens of kids, it was about the experience of sitting in the same bleachers used by a generation's worth of Jaguars football and soccer supporters, this time to watch a group of players hoping to one day get the call to the United's parent club in the USL Championship.

The front row of Capital's grandstand had fans banging on drums from start to finish. The fence along the field had kids in the team's familiar black and yellow kits. The crowd was waving bright yellow United flags, courtesy of a pregame giveaway.

"Better than I could have hoped," United owner and team President Peter Trevisani said of the crowd.

A Santa Fean who breathed new life into the state's sports landscape when he launched the U-23 parent franchise four years ago, he has worked tirelessly to promote the sport around the state. With the big club's home games played mostly at jam-packed Isotopes Park, he sees the franchise — from its Academy club of high school players to the U-23s and the parent team in the USL — as a statewide entity with limitless potential. "It's why we are the New Mexico United and not the Albuquerque United," he said at halftime.

With a roster of mostly college players, the U-23s are one of the youngest teams in what is known as the USL2, the United Soccer League's second-tier organization with more than 100 teams across the country. New Mexico's is one of the youngest rosters in the Western Conference with some players still in their teens.

Most of the players are from New Mexico, including Lamar Bynum.

A graduate of Rio Rancho High School, he just finished his freshman year at Colorado State-Pueblo in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Like most of the U-23s with local ties, he relished the chance to play a game this close to home. He had a number of friends and family attend the game.

"That's really why I came back, to have them at the games," Bynum said. "It's a chance to give back to the community."

The U-23s will have a rematch with Salt City on Saturday at Eco Park in Taos, then home games in Gallup and Farmington. They've had a previous stop in Roswell, as well as one game at their training site in Albuquerque.

GAME NOTESThe only glitch at Thursday's match was the sound system at Capital. The public address feed kept cutting in and out for most of the game, making for a frustrating night for the announcer in the press box. ... The match kicked off at 7 p.m. and ended at 8:53. Across town, the Santa Fe Fuego baseball game began at 6 and was still going strong past 10:30 p.m.