Phoenix Rising FC has broken ground on a new stadium, which is being built next to Wild Horse Pass Casino near Chandler and will hold around 10,000 fans upon completion.
The club announced its move Thursday from its current location on the Salt River Reservation near Tempe, Casino Arizona Field, where they played from 2017 to this past season. That “pop-up” stadium took just 53 days to erect; the new one will require several months.
“Everything that we heard from our fans that they didn’t like, including access, lack of permanent restrooms, family areas that we didn’t have, even more elevated and robust VIP experience, we have them all,” Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay said.
The new as-yet unnamed facility will be a major upgrade, including VIP luxury suites, two practice fields, permanent locker rooms, paved parking and improved access including four entry and exit points. It will be located on the Gila River Indian Community.
The stadium and fields are expected to be ready for the start of the next USL Championship season, slated for May 2021.
Rising FC routinely has sold out games at its previous facility, which has a listed capacity of 6,200, though the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that this past season. The club still went on to win the USL Championship Western Conference title, and was set to play for the league championship in Tampa on Nov. 1 until that match was canceled due to positive tests among the Tampa Bay Rowdies organization.
Rising FC had the best regular-season record in the league in 2019 before falling short of getting to the title game.
“We know that the product on the field is fantastic, I think now you’re going to have a venue that matches the product. This is all about the fans,” head coach Rick Schantz said. “I can’t wait. We get to go to a training center and park on concrete and have two training fields. It’s another level for me.”
More amenities will include an enhanced video board, a larger press box, a permanent ticket office and a family-friendly general admission section opposite the rambunctious supporters group seating area.
Rising FC still appears to have its sights set on becoming an expansion team in Major League Soccer, the highest level of pro soccer in the U.S. The club has long been on the radar of MLS, but other markets, all smaller in size than greater Phoenix, have been awarded teams over the past couple of years.
“We have a great working relationship with the team at MLS. They’re very closely watching what’s going on, including what happened here (Thursday) and what can happen in the future,” Bakay said.
“For me, it’s a club that behaves like they’re already in MLS,” Schantz said. “My idea with the players is, if we want to go to the MLS we need to start behaving like we’re in the MLS now. We’ve proven it with our staff, we’ve proven it with the players that we bring in, and now the ownership and Gila River are proving it with the infrastructure.”
“There’s desire to be at the very top level and when they say it, I think now there’s proof that if these guys say something, they’re going to do something,” Schantz added.
Bakay and Schantz said a new home is all about the fans.
“It pained us to watch our fans try to get out of our stadium, that took sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes longer. So you’re going to see a dramatic change in infrastructure improvement,” Bakay said.
The supporters section, which houses fan groups Los Bandidos and Red Fury, will be expanded. Ground on the project broke several weeks ago, and natural grass will be transported to the site in March.
No funding or cost details were given, but no budget was exceeded from the Gila River Indian Community side, said Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park General Manager Mark Grado. It’s believed to be a six-year partnership between the club and the community, with the hope that both will be in business together if and when Phoenix Rising FC moves up to MLS.
“2020 was tough for everyone, and to come into 2021 knowing that we have this to come to, knowing our fans have a bigger and more welcoming environment to come into, I think it’s going to be great,” Phoenix defender Darnell King said. “I can’t wait to see all the fans there when it’s suitable for that to happen.”
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