Have you made plans for New Year’s Day?
If not, the New Mexico Runners will literally be kicking off their 2021-22 home schedule against the Amarillo Bombers in an indoor soccer game at the Rio Rancho Events Center at 5:05 p.m.
The bulk of the previous season’s (2019-20) players will be back, as will mascot Rio, with a dry-cleaned outfit.
“I would say 75 percent of our core is back,” team owner Andres Trujillo said of the 24-man active roster. “We’ve got guys like Miguel Garcia, a Cleveland High School standout. We’ve got guys like Sergio Fuentes, who went to Volcano Vista High School.”
Goalkeeper Casey Gasson, a fan favorite — and the first player signed — returns between the pipes. Also back are head coach Steve Famiglietta and the “Voice of the Runners,” Rio Rancho High School boys soccer coach John Shepard, who keeps fans informed of goal-scorers and lineup changes, as well as on-pitch promotions.
“We’ve had about 150 season tickets sold,” Trujillo said. “It’s definitely been a challenge, because people just don’t know, but they’re excited.”
Trujillo said the team needs about 1,100 fans per game to break even.
Major Arena Soccer League 2 began its 2021-22 season on Dec. 11 with a three-division alignment, with the top two teams in each division advancing to post-season play.
The Great Lakes Division will include the defending M2 champion Cleveland Crunch, Muskegon Risers, Chicago Mustangs and the Cincinnati based BC Swerve.
The Midwest Division includes last year’s runner up finisher, the Wichita Wings, along with Colorado Inferno, Amarillo Bombers and Omaha Kings and New Mexico Runners.
The Western Division will include the RGV Barracudas, San Diego Sockers 2, Ontario Fury 2 and the Turlock Express.
All teams will play a 12-game regular season schedule that runs through March. Teams will receive three points for a win, regardless of whether it is in regulation or overtime. The top two teams in each division will then meet in a one-game quarterfinal playoff game at the site of the division winner.
After the opening round, the three remaining teams will be re-seeded, with the top team getting an automatic bye into the championship game. The second and third seeds will meet in a game at the site of the Championship Weekend, decided later in the season.
“We really like the set up, and with only six of our teams qualifying for the post-season, literally every regular season game will have playoff implications which we think will be exciting for all teams and their fans,” Commissioner Chris Economides said.
The league began with two five-team divisions in 2017-18. The Runners joined the league in time for the 2018-19 season and went 4-8, and then 4-7 in the 2019-20 season.
The pandemic scuttled the Runners in 2020-21, although six other teams played at least 10 games apiece.
Omaha swept the Runners Dec. 17-18 in a weekend double header, 15-10 and 13-12. Alejandro scored four goals in each game for the Runners, while teammate Johnny Villaba had four goals over the weekend.
“After almost two years of hiatus, because that’s basically what it has been … it’ll be about a year and 10 months since we last played at home,” Trujillo said.
“We’re not going to play with masks,” he added. “With fans, of course, the mask mandate is implied, but because you’re in an arena setting — you’re eating, drinking — so no one’s really going to be able to enforce (it); you’re enjoying conversation,whatever it’ll be.
“For us, we’re following what the state guidelines are,” he said. Fans won’t be asked vaccination status, but Trujillo said he hopes fans will distance themselves from others not in their party, and that can easily be accomplished by sitting in the upper bowl, where general admission ticket-holders will be.
Trujillo has plans for special celebrations at home games, including one game when Rio Rancho residents — with proof of residency — will be admitted free. The details are still being worked on for those “theme nights.”
Season tickets start at $70 and go up to $250 for front-row seats; single-game ducats range from $13 to $50, and you can get a group-ticket discount for as low as $11 per ticket for 10-plus fans.
The Runners’ other home games, all on Saturdays and kicking off at 7 p.m., are Jan. 8 (vs. Kings FC), Jan. 22 (Rio Rancho Community Night/vs. Rio Grande Valley Barra), Feb. 5 (Educators Night./vs. Inferno), Feb. 26 (Faith and Family Night/vs. Wings) and March 19 (First Responders Appreciation Night/vs. Turlock).
To purchase tickets or obtain more information, visit newmexicorunners.com or call 505-663-7786. The Runners also have a Facebook page.
Games will be streamed on ProView Networks, Trujillo added.
“I’m a big believer that (sports) broadcasts are two-hour long commercials,” he joked. “When you sell the excitement and people see that, they go, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I’ve got to go check that out.’”
For the latest information on the league and teams, visit m2soccer.com or any of the league’s social media platforms.
Trujillo said the team will sponsor a youth soccer clinic held at the events center Jan.21-23; it will include, he expected, two professional soccer players from Columbia.