Phoenix F.C. kicks off its second season in the United Soccer Leagues’ PRO Division on March 30 with a road game against the Colorado Rapids reserves.
Members of the team’s La Furia Roja supporters’ group have booked flights and accommodation for the Denver trip. Dozens more have invested between $140 and $375 for season tickets, and discussions have been held to gauge interest in running minibuses to the Wolves’ four league games in Southern California against the Los Angeles Galaxy II and Orange County Blues.
LFR’s enthusiasm is rapidly being replaced by disappointment and frustration with Phoenix’s front office and with USL PRO. The Wolves have yet to start pre-season training and it appears that not one player has been signed to a contract. The fans’ attempts to obtain clarification about their team’s ongoing existence have been met with stony silence from the club and the league.
“Most people understand that this is a minor league operation and that there will be issues,” LFR director Greg Spradlin told The Soccer Observer in a telephone interview.
“We’re empathetic toward the team, but we can’t support them if they’re invisible.”
Spradlin recently spent $290, including administration fees, to acquire two season tickets in the Wolves’ allocated supporters’ section at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Over four million people live in the greater Phoenix area. The original ownership group behind the USL’s expansion into the Valley of the Sun was hailed in a July 2012 press release issued by the league.
“BDR Sports’ leaders possess the vision and experience to make professional soccer a success in Phoenix through USL PRO,” said USL’s chief executive Alec Papadakis.
“We welcome them into our family.”
Clouds soon began to form. Phoenix removed temporary seating from its leased home at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Soccer Stadium to cut its costs despite leaving some season ticket holders with inferior views than they had paid for. Public relations contractors were released, and players were sent out on loan to reduce the wage bill.
Phoenix’s supporters were further inconvenienced when the team switched its final three home games to the amateur Reach 11 Sports Complex. The Wolves ended the season second-to-last in USL PRO with five wins from 26 games.
USL announced the formal termination of BDR Sports’ ownership rights last November after serial breaches of the league’s minimum operational standards. Phoenix also struggled to pay its players in a timely fashion on multiple instances, according to the termination letter signed by USL president Tim Holt.
Phoenix appeared to be the latest casualty of the USL’s high turnover since the league was granted third-tier status for the 2011 season. Six clubs have paid the franchise fee before disappearing shortly afterward.
In Phoenix’s case, the USL’s termination letter accused BDR Sports of submitting misleading financial statements that distorted the group’s financial worth prior to the franchise acquisition.
Wolves fans were given a reprieve when the league issued a brief statement last December announcing that American Soccer Marketing LLC, owned by Tim Donald, had been awarded the franchise rights for their club.
Donald, general manager Rui Filipe Bento and director of operations Shawn Diedtrich invited six La Furia Roja members to a meeting last month to begin rebuilding bridges with the city’s soccer community. The three front office members were all employed during Phoenix’s troubled inaugural year. Donald became acting president during the season after initial lead investor Tim Thomas was acrimoniously ousted.
Communications have withered once more, leading many fans to rethink their commitment to the club. Scottsdale resident John McPherson and his wife, Monica, spent over $1,000 on five season tickets last year. McPherson told The Soccer Observer that too many broken promises have left people very doubtful about the organization’s ability to deliver.
The lack of information is also taking its toll on Spradlin’s group. La Furia Roja consisted of 250 members before Phoenix played its first USL PRO game last year. Renewal notices have been sent out this week with Spradlin expecting about 40 people to continue paying their subscriptions.
“I don’t know how many people tell me they love LFR but hate Phoenix F.C.,” Spradlin said. “It’s heartbreaking for me right now.”
USL declined to comment on the situation. The league has no plans to reschedule Phoenix’s opening game on March 30.
Phoenix F.C.’s owners were not available for comment.
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