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2017 USL Season Preview: Phoenix Rising FC

With a new name, new digs, and a new attitude, Phoenix looks to add playoffs to its new experiences in 2017.

USL EVP Tom Veit (second from left) poses with Phoenix Rising FC owners (from left) Tim Riester, Berke Bakay, and Brett Johnson

Year Founded: 2014 as Arizona United SC, re-branded November 2016

Affiliation: Independent

2016 record: 9W-7D-14L, 13th in Western Conference

2016 playoffs: Did not qualify

Key additions: Omar Bravo, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Mike Seth

Key departures: Tyler Blackwood, Long Tan

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-4-2): Carl Woszczynski; Jordan Stewart, Peter Ramage, Uchenna Uzo, Brock Granger; Miguel Timm, Blair Gavin, Luke Rooney, Alessandro Riggi; Omar Bravo, Mike Seth

In 2016, a third-year Arizona United SC was mired in a strange mix of optimism and despair. The hiring of MLS veteran head coach Frank Yallop followed the (understatement of the year alert!) unexpected offseason investments in the club by Grammy-winning artist Diplo, and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz. On the field, the club produced more entertaining, attacking soccer than in years past, but suffered from paltry attendance in the distant Phoenix suburb of Peoria, and failed to reach the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

In August of last year, club founder Kyle Eng sold his majority stake in the team to a group of mostly local investors led by Kona Grill CEO Berke Bakay. A whirlwind of excitement followed, kicked off by the rebranding of the club to Phoenix Rising FC, and the announcement of a plan to construct a pop-up stadium in the well-traveled geographical center of Phoenix metro’s disposable income. In January, Rising FC submitted an application to Major League Soccer for expansion, and bolstered that buzz with the signings of Omar Bravo and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Throw in the rumor that Didier Drogba will be on the pitch for Phoenix for the season opener, and it’s been perhaps the most exciting offseason in the USL.

Why you should watch Phoenix Rising FC in 2017:

Where to begin? The afore-mentioned pop-up stadium, Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, is an achingly beautiful sight for sore eyes here in the desert. It should look as good on camera as in person, which is wonderful for the league.

Admit it. You’re curious to see how Omar Bravo will do. So are untold thousands of Phoenician Chivas supporters, many of whom are expected to be present in the stands this year.

3 players to watch:

Omar Bravo: Does he still have it? Can he replace and exceed the ten goals lost with Long Tan’s departure?

Carl Woszczynski: The heartbeat of this team, “Woz” is a classy shot stopper who, with the support of even a mediocre backline performance, should absolutely be in the conversation of the league’s best goalkeepers.

Luke Rooney: A hardworking, hard-tackling playmaker, Rooney is the fulcrum of everything this club will do offensively. With a bit of polish, he has the potential to challenge for the Golden Boot.

The 2017 season will be a success if... the “Firebirds” finally make the playoffs, and/or sell enough tickets to match the hype, week in and week out. Bakay and his organization have set the excitement bar very high. Executing on that throughout 2017 will not be easy, but finally putting a winning team on the pitch will do wonders for the club’s lofty ambitions.

Read More:

Arizona United SC becomes Phoenix Rising FC, reveals stadium plans - Firebird Rising

Phoenix Rising FC is one of the funnest teams in America right now - Top Drawer Soccer