With Nashville being announced as the first of three soccer teams joining Major League Soccer, Phoenix Rising chief operating officer, Bobby Dulle, and co-founder and owner, Mark Detmer, are taking the necessary steps to earn a bid to join highest level of American soccer.
“Every decision we make, we want to be the gold standard,” Dulle said. “Right now, we are second division. We want to be the gold standard of second division. When we get to MLS, we want to be the gold standard.”
In the past year, the Rising has worked towards the three necessary qualifications of an MLS bid—an adequate stadium, market size and ownership group.
The Rising is ranked fifth in the Western Conference of the United Soccer League under head coach Patrice Carteron. After rebranding in 2017, the team signed former Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba as a player and co-owner of the team.
“Didier brings a diverse background that we wanted to embrace,” Detmer said.
Drogba was ranked in the top 75 athletes in the world last year—the only Arizona player to make that list.
On the field, the Rising has seen dramatic improvements since its rebranding. After being hired in May of 2017, Carteron moved his team up eight sports in the Western Conference.
“He’s a guy that has more credentials than anyone in Major League Soccer,” Dulle said.
Most recently, the Rising added Advantage Sports CEO, Alex Zheng, to its now 16-person ownership group that includes local businessmen and national celebrities such as the Diplo, an American DJ, and Pete Wentz of the band Fall Out Boy.
“He [Zheng] helped round out this concept of having a global sport here on a local basis,” Detmer said.
The addition of Zheng secured added financial stability for the young USL team. Zheng is the fifth-largest hotel owner in China and is a part owner of OGC Nice, which plays in French Ligue 1.
“We want partners that can help us in the short term but take them to MLS soccer as well,” Dulle said.
The Rising already has the market size for an MLS team. It is the currently the largest media market without an MLS team.
At the end of January, the Rising signed Populous and Gould Evans as the architectural firms to design a new MLS-acceptable stadium for the team. Currently, they play at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, between the 101 and 202 freeways. They plan to build a stadium which will triple seating capacity on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community reservation.
In a market with four professional sports teams, the Rising hopes to make soccer the fifth professional sport in the fifth-largest city in the United States.
To Detmer, soccer is a universal language.
“It talks to you. It speaks to you,” he said.