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Phoenix FC soccer: New club takes major step for the sport in the Valley

The new home of Phoenix FC of the USL Pro League will be ASU's soon-to-be refurbished soccer stadium in Tempe.

ASU's Steve Patterson with Phoenix FC coach David Robertson, president Tim Thomas and GM Rui Bento (L-R)
ASU's Steve Patterson with Phoenix FC coach David Robertson, president Tim Thomas and GM Rui Bento (L-R)
Jose Romero

Professional soccer done right. It's hard not to believe that it will be here in the Valley in April of 2013.

Tuesday's news conference at Arizona State University only added to the excitement building among the local soccer community for Phoenix FC. From what those who attended heard from team president Tim Thomas and other front office personnel, the club is focused on the present with an eye toward the future.

That can only mean good things for soccer and soccer fans in the area, many who have never had a financially sound and stable local soccer team, with good backing and a long-term plan, for which to root.

Phoenix FC unveiled an artist's rendering of what its new home will look like this spring -- ASU Soccer Stadium plus several thousand more seats to give the natural grass-surface pitch a capacity of 5,000 with the option for more in temporary seating. A source indicated that some of the new seating will come from the company that provides stadium-style seating for the annual Phoenix Open golf tournament.

So as of Tuesday, Phoenix FC has a home It is set to open play in the USL Pro League which is in essence one to two steps lower than Major League Soccer -- depending on who you talk to that knows the tier system well. It also has a front office -- Thomas, general manager Rui Filipe Bento and head coach David Robertson -- and it has officially signed six players with more on the way soon to fill the roster.

There's more. The Wolves have a supporters group ready to get loud in Tempe on hot summer nights, La Furia Roja, and they have a red-and-black Wolves trademarked logo.

So why ASU? Location was key, and as Thomas said, the pitch is the best around. The team considered playing in a spring training facility and converting a baseball field for soccer. But in the end, Thomas and his investors decided to gather together an amount in six figures, ASU vice president of athletics Steve Patterson said, to upgrade amenities and seating at ASU's stadium.

The stadium will be ready for use by Feb. 10, with seating intact.

"We couldn't ask for a better place, and we thank ASU tremendously for having a long term deal with us to play pro soccer in the Valley," Thomas said.

"We wanted to be in a soccer-specific stadium. I think it was very important for us to do something different in Arizona that hasn't been done before," Thomas added. "We're a professional franchise... we're soccer purists. We want the fan experience to be soccer-pure."

Joining together with ASU makes good sense. The club and university can cross-promote their soccer programs. The stadium is located near light rail and freeway access as well as restaurants. A beer garden on game nights is in the works -- with Patterson securing licensing to allow for it on a campus facility. There can be enough seats added to host friendlies with MLS clubs or other clubs.

There is always the question of over-saturation of the sports market, with Phoenix FC's season overlapping with mainly the Arizona Diamondbacks but also the Phoenix Suns, Coyotes (if they play) and Arizona Cardinals and Rattlers. There will have to be some creative scheduling.

But it works in other markets. And there's reason to believe it can make it here, too. Phoenix FC will start small, trying to attract a fan base out of the local youth clubs at tournaments. Thomas said the club has a relationship with Univision that he hopes will lead to more bilingual and Spanish-speaking fans.

Optimism, especially on a day when the stadium plans were unveiled, is naturally high.

"On the bottom end we're looking maybe 3,500 or 4,000 (fans per game)," Thomas said. "But really, with the fan base we have and the waiting list for tickets, I would probably say that we'll be sold out for this season. It's going to be a very tough ticket to get if you're waiting into the regular season because there are only 5,000 seats."