New Mexico United kicks off its 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup campaign April 4 in Rio Rancho.
Due to a scheduling conflict with Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes and upgrades being done at the University of New Mexico’s soccer stadium, United will take the pitch at Rio Rancho High School at 7 p.m. instead of Isotopes Park, where they usually play home matches.
“The city is excited to host the New Mexico United and their fans,” Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull said. “I am grateful to Rio Rancho Public Schools for offering the use of Rio Rancho High School for this event as well. I look forward to an exciting game as I know many others will be too. The city of Rio Rancho and I welcome New Mexico United. Somos Unidos!”
Rio Rancho High School seats roughly 4,200 people, which is about 6,500 fewer than the 2022 average attendance at United home matches. NMU is expecting a large turnout from its rabid fan base, however, as the first United Soccer League Championship home match is not until April 15 for United.
What difference will playing up the hill in Rio Rancho make for NMU?
“It doesn’t present a different challenge; it’s a different venue, which is, you know, different. But at the same time, it’s cool that we’re playing a different part of (New Mexico),” New Mexico United head coach Zach Prince said. “Maybe someone that can’t make it over to Isotopes, it’s easier and more convenient for them to pop out there on a Tuesday night and come watch us, which is really cool. And I’m sure that high school kids at Rio Rancho High School, it’s cool for these guys to be able to play on their field. That’s something that’s pretty unique.”
Tuesday’s match will also have the distinction of being the first New Mexico vs. New Mexico matchup in the U.S. Open Cup, which is the oldest ongoing knockout cup competition in American soccer. The competition this year features 100 teams from professional leagues sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation; Major League Soccer (MLS), the United Soccer League’s Championship and League One divisions, the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), and MLS Next Pro, as well as amateur clubs in the earlier rounds of the tournament that qualify through their respective leagues.
One amateur club that went through three rounds of qualifying to earn a spot in the tournament is the New Mexico State University affiliated University Degrees Abroad academy club. NMSU UDA is made up of college-age players and plays in Las Cruces. NMSU UDA defeated Park City Red Wolves of USL League Two on a 1-0 margin last week at NMSU’s soccer field in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s amazing for the state of New Mexico first, I’m so excited that they won that game I was pulling for them,” Prince said. “I’ve been here for almost five years, and I’ve wanted an all-New Mexican matchup. That was really really cool for me, and I know cool for everyone in this state to be able to see that and really celebrate the state of New Mexico in this game.”
Don’t expect United to take NMSU UDA lightly. As Sacramento FC of the USL Championship proved by reaching the Open Cup final last year, anything is possible in this tournament.
“Open Cup is fun; it’s a whole different mindset , a whole different part of the season,” Prince said. “It’s win or go home, so you got to be locked in for that moment. You got to be consistent throughout that tournament if you want to make a run. I’m sure these guys and myself, we saw Sacramento make the run last year to the final, which made me really proud for the USL and that a USL team can go and achieve that. But at the same time, I’m glad they didn’t win it because we want to do so.”
New Mexico United made its own run in the U.S. Open Cup in 2019 when the team beat two MLS teams en route to the quarterfinals of the tournament. That year, United became the first team from New Mexico to win a match in the U.S. Open Cup since the New Mexico Chiles in 1992.
On April 4 in Rio Rancho, a team from New Mexico will win in the tournament again.