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Updated Jul 2, 2012, 4:17 pm Originally posted Jul 2, 2012, 1:22 pm
The United Soccer Leagues announced Monday the addition of a Phoenix franchise in the 2013 season. The team will be playing in the USL-Pro league, the third division of U.S. soccer.
The ownership group will include developer Tim Thomas and Rui Filipe Bento, who directs Phoenix's Benfica Soccer Academy.
The team is currently unnamed and has yet to announce a venue or a coach.
The United Soccer Leagues is an umbrella organization for several soccer leagues, including the Premier Development League that FC Tucson is part of.
'As desireable a market as you can have'
The USL has been looking at Phoenix as a possible location for a professional team for a number of years, but it's only now that the right combination of local ownership and league desires have come together.
"The dynamics are right," said USL president Tim Holt.
The league looks for certain criteria, but the rules aren't hard and fast.
"The best fit are markets in the top 20," Holt said. Although, he admitted that the most successful teams in the league are in Rochester and Charleston.
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They also look for a playing venue that holds a minimum of 2,500 fans, but teams in the league tend to play in venues in the 5,000 to 10,000 range.
University of Phoenix Stadium has hosted soccer games, including for the U.S. national team. But its 63,400-seat capacity would be a problem for a new team.
"University of Phoenix Stadium is not the best place to be playing right out of the gate," Holt admitted.
Starting off with a smaller venue would not be a problem. A larger venue, Holt said, should be a "long term goal not a prerequisite."
Phoenix has not had a professional soccer team since the Arizona Sahuaros left the D-3 Pro League (since folded into the USL Pro league) in 2002.
And a few miles to the south...
Holt gives partial credit for USL's decision to some of the things that have been going on in soccer here in Tucson, particularly the Desert Diamond Cup and Major League Soccer preseason training.
"It's very positive," he said. "It demonstrated that Arizona soccer is on the upswing. It helped the process."
"FC Tucson has doe a fantastic job," he said commenting on Tucson's semi-pro USL affiliate. "They'll have no trouble stepping into the professional division when the time comes."
About that NASL
The news from USL comes one day after the Phoenix Business Journal published a piece about the possibility of another lower division league, the North American Soccer League, bringing a franchise to Phoenix. The NASL is officially one level above USL Pro.
Kartik Karchnaiyer, spokesman for the NASL, said this morning that Phoenix is on a "wish list" of possible NASL franchises that includes Sacramento, Albuquerque and San Diego.
Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted the Phoenix Business Journal as saying that former Phoenix City Councilwoman Peggy Neely was part of a group trying to bring the NASL to Phoenix. The Journal article was in error, and Neely is part of the group involved with the new USL Pro franchise.