Phoenix Rising FC may not be in the running for the next MLS expansion franchise, but that is not stopping the USL club from making moves that could help land it one of the following two teams.
Phoenix Rising bolstered its chances of getting an MLS side on Saturday, announcing that Chinese billionaire Alex Zheng and his Advantage Sports Union company have been added to its ownership group. Zheng has ties to Phoenix because his daughter was born there, and is no stranger to soccer as an investor in Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice.
“Phoenix Rising FC has wonderful potential,” said Zheng in a statement released by the club. “Soccer fans throughout Arizona and across the United States are embracing the team after only its first year, and its soccer operations are very impressive. I am confident we can assist the club with its MLS aspirations and create an unprecedented pathway from youth soccer to the highest levels of international competition with Arizona as the North American hub.
“Personally, I have a deep connection with Phoenix, a wonderful place where my daughter was born. To partner with Phoenix Rising FC along with all of its great owners is not just a business deal, it’s personal for me as well.”
Boasting an ownership group that includes the likes of Ivorian striker Didier Drogba and American DJ Diplo, Phoenix Rising averaged 6,127 fans in league play in 2017. The club was previously known as Arizona United SC, but rebranded ahead of last year’s campaign.
MLS will grow to 26 teams with the announcement of its next expansion franchise, but the finalists for that club are Cincinnati, Detroit, and Sacramento. The league has plans to grow to 28 sides at some point in the near future, and it is expected that the field will be opened to all interested cities.
Phoenix was one of the 12 markets that initially submitted a bid for the current round of expansion, but did not make the final cut.