BRISTOL, Conn. – In a little over a year, Phoenix Rising FC and New Mexico United have struck up a serious rivalry through meetings in the USL Championship and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
But in addition to that, the two clubs have been part of a major move by the Championship into the Southwest of the United States. Alongside El Paso Locomotive FC, Las Vegas Lights FC and Austin Bold FC, all of which joined the league in the past two seasons, New Mexico and Phoenix are examples according to USL President Jake Edwards of what the Championship has become as it enters its 10th season.
“What we’re seeing here in a lot of communities is such a tribal following, and a tribal, passionate connection to their clubs,” Edwards told Sebastian Salazar in the second part of their interview at ESPN’s studios this week. “That is enabling people and supporters show how proud they are at being from that community, and they’re able to do it through the football club and they’re able to do it on a national TV platform. We’re attracting strong support in Albuquerque with New Mexico United – phenomenal support, they’ve galvanized the entire state behind a soccer team.
“Phoenix have built a tremendous club, it’s one of the greatest success stories, regardless of division, in American soccer right now. Twenty-one consecutive sellouts, and they’ll sell out again this weekend. They’ve built what is one of the most intimidating places to go and play in our league, they’ve got amazing supporter groups there, extremely passionate environment, but it’s a great ownership group, they’ve built a nice venue, they’ve had continuity on the field with the coach and the players, they’ve had stars like Didier Drogba get involved, so they’ve created something really special there that the folks are getting behind.”
Other topics discussed by Edwards with Salazar as the new season kicked off included:
The USL’s hiring of former U.S. Women’s National Team player Angela Hucles as its top advisor on women’s soccer
The possibility of promotion and relegation between the USL Championship and USL League One