.......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... ..........
Santos Laguna’s Eduardo Herrera (11) heads the ball over the Tigres’ Guido Pizarro in their game Wednesday night at Isotopes Park. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)
An hour before kickoff the cacophony swelled. A fusion of drums, cymbals, trumpets, chants and fluttering flags drowned the Latin music on the stadium speakers. It may sound sonorous to soccer partisans but it’s new noise for Isotopes Park.
The first-ever soccer game at Isotopes Park took place on Wednesday night between Mexican League teams Santos Laguna and Tigres. Tigres defeated Santos Laguna 2-0 in front of an announced 7,623 fans.
Tigres scored in the 32nd after sluggish Santos defending didn’t close down Rafel De Souza. The Tigres midfielder had time to pick out a low strike to the far post. Eduardo Vargas added a 63rd-minute penalty kick.
Houston-based promotor SPD Sports approached the Isotopes in September about hosting a non-league match during the FIFA international break at Isotopes park. The match is an opportunity for SPD Sports and Liga MX to promote its product in the New Mexico market.
Hugo Ruiz, 38, drove 14 hours straight from Texas along with six friends to see his beloved Tigres. Ruiz proudly produced his official club supporter card from the Rio Grande Valley Tigres chapter.
“Our goal is to be in the crowd, our job is to give it that flavor,” Ruiz said. “Give the team a boost singing songs to root them on.”
The Tigres fans in the right-field berm were overwhelmed in number by the Santos Laguna supporters in the second deck along the left field line.
Paco Soto, 38, and his family drove from Dallas for the game to cheer on Santos Laguna. He was waving a modified Texas flag with the green and white Santos colors and the club crest replacing the star.
“It’s that feeling that nobody understands,” Soto said. “Whether it’s a friendly or an official game we’re here.”
Soccer will become a more regular feature at Isotopes Park in 2019 as United Soccer League expansion team New Mexico United will play its home games there.
“It turned out to be a great idea as sort of a dry run through for all of us just to learn how the field works, how the scoreboards, locker rooms work,” Isotopes GM John Traub said. “We looked at the primary advantage for us to just learn about soccer in our venue and that starts with the field conversion and getting that experience down.”
The baseball diamond gets a makeover with fresh sod laid down to cover the infield dirt. Some of the dirt is removed in the flattening and shaping process. The green sod patches display some yellow and brown accents.
“I’ve played on six baseball fields over the course of my professional career and this is one of the best conversions I’ve seen,” United coach Troy Lesesne said. “I like it to be a little soft. When it’s harder it’s more bouncy and I want the ball on the ground.”
One goal sits on the right-field line near first base while the other is abuts the left-field warning track. Soccer lines have to be painted. All told, it’s a two- or three-day process to flip from baseball to soccer.
“Our goal is certainly in spring time and summer, this is a baseball field. This is a field the Colorado Rockies put their players on,” Traub said. “We want no evidence that a soccer match was on our field in terms of just playability, safety and everything. We’re not going to put any team on a field that’s not playable and that’s not safe.”
New Mexico United wants to play a high tactical pressing style and sees an advantage to keeping the pitch watered slick. It also would like to extend the goal line and touch lines a few yards if possible.
“Fast surface is what we’re after. We’ll have (the grass) at a short length with our passing and tempo that makes a difference,” Lesesne said. “Sometimes it’s out of the control of the club. The Isotopes have been really good to us. We want to make other teams work and 2 to 3 yards can make a difference over the course of a game wearing them out.”
Tigres defender Juan José Purate said the pitch was smaller than Liga MX fields.
“Some parts were damaged more than others and some parts of the grass were higher than others,” Purate said. “The ball didn’t move very fast.”
For scheduling, the Isotopes take precedence, which is common across the USL for clubs playing at minor league baseball stadiums. As a result, it’s likely United’s home slate will be clustered in the spring and fall.
“We sat down with them, showed them our schedule and the days they could play soccer here,” Traub said. “USL will have to have some flexibility because our schedule has to come first. They know that very well and they’ve been understanding of that.”
Lesesne expressed appreciation for the Isotopes’ hospitality and was not concerned with the home-away-home chunks: “It’s great to start the year to really build the excitement to create our brand,” Lesesne said.
Source : https://www.abqjournal.com/1246741/first-pitch-at-isotopes-park-is-a-hit.html2340