By Kody Acevedo
Phoenix Rising FC, the highest level professional soccer franchise in Arizona, is putting on quite the show in 2017.
It began with a highly successful re-branding effort capped off with the opening of a new 5,000 seat stadium on McClintock Drive and Loop 202 near the Tempe/Scottsdale border.
But flashy new uniforms and a new soccer-only facility are only part of the excitement. All of the hype means very little without a quality team to put on the field.
Phoenix Rising has solved that problem too. Throughout the summer, the team has turned heads across the Valley.
It started with the signing of Didier Drogba, a former MLS striker who is most famous for playing with Chelsea in the Premier League.
“We have a desire to play with intensity,” Drogba said following a 2-1 victory over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on July 15. “I’ve been here for six weeks and the team has improved.”
Following Drogba’s signing, the team went on a six-game unbeaten streak after a 4-5 start to the season.
“We have a great team. Young guys full of energy and a desire to win here at home,” Drogba said.
On top of Drogba’s signing, the team hired Patrice Carteron to be their new head coach on May 22 after former coach Frank Yallop resigned in April.
Carteron is a former Mali National Men’s Team manager and took over in early June.
“I want our fans to feel that we are fighting every time,” Carteron said. “Of course we want to play good football… definitely we need to progress, but I’m so happy about what we did in the last six games.”
Carteron highlighted the excitement Drogba brings to the Phoenix Rising environment, both with the players and the fans.
“We cannot play defensive football when so many thousands of people are coming to support us. We have an offensive player like Drogba, we need to give him the ball if we want fans to see what he can do with the ball.”
“Patrice wants us to win every game,” Drogba said. “That’s the mentality we need to have. You know you can’t win every time, but you have to give everything and that’s all we’ve been doing the last few weeks.”
The efforts by Phoenix Rising, formally Arizona United SC, are not just to attract more fans, but to attract the attention of MLS officials.
In January, Phoenix Rising submitted an expansion application bid to join Major League Soccer.
Phoenix is one of 12 markets bidding for an expansion team.
“Phoenix, Arizona is ready for Major League Soccer,” Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay said in January. “Phoenix is the largest expansion market in the United States. We offer MLS the largest population of Millennial and Hispanic soccer fans, and the most TV households. Phoenix is also the only expansion market without an existing MLS team within 300 miles. It’s time for the MLS to come to the southwest and rise with our fans in Phoenix.”
Phoenix joins Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Raliegh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa who all submitted applications earlier this year.
Major League Soccer will announce two new expansion teams before the end of 2017.
Currently, there are 22 teams, but MLS plans to add Los Angeles FC in 2018 and a Miami team, pending a finalized stadium plan.
Phoenix is hoping to be team 25 or 26 and will begin play in MLS by the 2020 season.
Two additional expansion teams will be announced at a later date. The timeline for selecting clubs 27 and 28 will be decided later this year.