The stage is almost set for Conference Finals Saturday, but elsewhere in the Championship clubs are beginning their offseasons by returning their focus to matters close to the community. Here’s your Morning Tea for Friday.
When the 2020 season ended for New Mexico United, it had been almost a full year since the club had last taken the field for a competitive game in its home state.
And yet, the connection throughout the club’s second season has seemed to strengthen despite the conditions this season was played under. The passion of the fans could be seen remotely online and at the events the club held that allowed fans to convene safely.
It’s been clearly felt by the players who wore the black and yellow this season. So, on Thursday, the club and the Somos Unidos Foundation announced the creation of the “Shirts Off Our Backs” Player Project. In the coming days, fans will be able to purchase raffle tickets with the chance to win a game-worn 2020 match jersey from every United player.
The funds raised from the raffle will go directly to The Community Desk Project. Led by David Gunter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the volunteer group creates desks for New Mexican children who are learning at home.
“Inequity – as much as we may hate it – is often part of being a child in New Mexico,” said the players collectively in an open letter that accompanied the announcement. “The Community Desk Project and the Somos Unidos Foundation aim to fight that inequity by providing every child with a workspace to call their own. Giving a child their very own desk gives them a place to learn, to do homework, and a way to know that they have a community supporting them, along with their dreams and aspirations.”
Shirts Off Our Backs is a timeworn tradition at numerous clubs around the professional sporting landscape. The Boston Bruins’ traditional on-ice ceremony at their final home regular season game of the season in the NHL is a staple that goes back many years.
What’s notable about United’s version is that it has come as a player-driven project, a sign of the connection those that arrived in the Land of Enchantment feel with the state and those that have backed the side over its remarkable first two years.
“This project is driven by New Mexico United players. Every single one of them feels a calling to fight for New Mexico’s children and families,” said Executive Director of the Somos Unidos Foundation Chanel Wiese. “They are using their platform to make our community a better place, and I am honored to work alongside them.”
After a season in which home games were just an abstract concept, United’s sense of community continues to grow.
- El Paso Locomotive FC has reached the Western Conference Final for a second consecutive season with its execution at key points of the game proving crucial to the club finding success. “It tends to be about winning certain minutes of the game,” Head Coach Mark Lowry told KTSM’s Colin Deaver. “The first 15 minutes, right before halftime, the last 5 minutes. Those things are more important in the playoffs than in the regular season.”
- Louisville City FC is expecting a physical test when they host the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night in the Eastern Conference Final, but want to try and maintain their focus on what they need to do to succeed. “It puts a little more stress in terms of staying focused,” forward Antoine Hoppenot told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Saxon. “Sometimes if you get beat up physically, mentally you lose focus in terms of trying to play our game. (You’re) not trying to deal with any of the side, physical stuff.”
- El Paso Locomotive FC defender Mechack Jerome wasn’t at his best early after the season resumed in July, but the Haitian international has regained the level that made him one of the club’s cornerstones as its initial squad was being built. ESPN 600 El Paso’s Joe Rodriguez looked at Jerome’s rise back to his best after initial difficulties coming back from last year’s season-ending injury.
- Bermuda international Zeiko Lewis told the Royale Gazette he and his Charleston Battery team-mates are determined to “come back stronger” next season. Charleston’s 2020 campaign and bid for a fifth USL Championship came to a grinding halt after losing 1-0 away to home side Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference Semifinal at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday.
- After Saint Louis FC’s history came to an end on Saturday night, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Lyons spoke with captain Sam Fink and Head Coach Steve Trittschuh about the experience of the past year. “In some years, you play that last game and everybody scatters because personalities don’t mesh,” said Fink. “But this group, because of all we’d been through, seemed to become closer and closer as the season went on.”