By Edwin Perez
PHOENIX – Phoenix Rising FC hopes 2021 is about more than just improved play on the field. The organization said it is committed to a better fan experience, too.
A club that advanced to the USL Championship in 2020 – before it was canceled because multiple Tampa Bay players tested positive for COVID-19 – also added new players in the offseason, including on Monday winger Prince Saydee, 24, who was mostly recently with Miami FC. But the biggest headline of the offseason so far has been the Rising’s decision to move from Casino Arizona Field to a new stadium at the Gila River Indian Community’s Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.
The stadium will have a 35% capacity increase from the 6,200 of its previous home, permanent bathrooms, paved parking with multiple entrances and exits, a double-sided video screen, more practice fields and improved family and VIP experiences.
“We know that the product on the field is fantastic. I think now, you’re going to have a venue that matches the product,” coach Rick Schantz said. “This is all about the fans. This is all about fan experience, excitement, in-game experience. I think Phoenix Rising, our ownership, has been fantastic in their vision, and this is just another step along the way.”
The yet-to-be-named stadium has most fans excited for the upgrades although some have expressed concern for the location and the limitations of public transportation. For Arizona State students, especially, the old south Scottsdale location was ideal.
General manager Bobby Dulle believes fans will learn to love the changes.
“Believe in this ownership group. Believe in this club. We’re going to continue to try to listen,” Dulle said at a press conference. “I think (we’re) an organization that is committed to winning, an organization that is committed to being good stewards in the community, and an organization that cares about our fan base. And so for us, we’re looking for feedback.”
Schantz believes the move will be a boost to his players as well as help the process of recruiting new players.
“I think now, with two training fields, with a larger area for physical development, with more shade and a more climate-controlled space for the players, I think it’s just going to allow me to be even more creative and make the team bigger, stronger and faster,” he said.
Mark Gardo, who spoke on the behalf of the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, said the stadium will cost “in excess of at least several million dollars,” and that funding will come from Wild Horse Pass and from the club.
The first phase of the project is underway.
— Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) December 21, 2020
The organization’s push to become an MLS team has become more evident. Rising club governor Berke Bakay believes that with this stadium, its fanbase and Phoenix logging in as the No. 5 market in the United States, it is only a matter of time until Rising becomes an MLS club.
“We have one of the fastest growing populations. It’s an extremely important media market. We have a great relationship with the league we are in,” Bakay said. “We’re proud of where we are with the USL Championship, and at the same time, we have a great working relationship with the team at MLS, and they’re very closely watching what’s going on including what just happened here and what can happen in the future.”
Apart from stadium news, Rising FC has been active with roster moves. It had a decision to make on which players would return.
Back-to-back USL MVP Solomon Asante was one of those alongside goalkeeper Zac Lubbin, who were key players in last season’s success. Midfielders Kevin Lambert and Jon Bakero, fullback Darnell King and forwards Santi Moar and Rufat Dadashov are back, too.
Among those players not returning is Junior Flemmings, who was accused of using a homophobic slur during a match.
Also returning is Joey Farell, a key center back who has started 57 of his 68 appearances during his time with the club beginning in December of 2017. It was key for the club to secure him since defenders Cory Whelan and A.J. Cochran would not be back.