Major League Soccer (MLS) has invited Phoenix Rising FC to submit an application for an MLS Expansion Team franchise following a meeting between MLS executives and Phoenix Rising FC owners last Friday in New York City.

Phoenix joins a list of at least ten other cities competing for two MLS expansion team franchises that may be awarded during second or third quarter of 2017. In December, the league acknowledged ownership groups from 10 markets have publicly expressed interest in securing an MLS expansion team, including: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

The applications are due January 31, 2017.  The winning expansion team franchises will begin playing in MLS during the 2020 season.

Phoenix was not initially included in the list of possible MLS expansion team markets, however the rapid momentum generated behind Phoenix Rising FC and its new ownership group attracted the attention of MLS.

“MLS has considered Phoenix to be an attractive soccer market for many years,” said Mark Abbott, the MLS Deputy Commissioner. “In fact, we visited Phoenix and toured potential stadium sites 13 years ago, including the site recently secured by Phoenix Rising FC within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in south Scottsdale.”

Soccer-specific stadiums are an important component of MLS’ fan engagement strategy because its 22 existing teams routinely play before live audiences of 20,000 to 25,000 fans.

“Being invited to submit an MLS expansion team application is an honor,” said Berke Bakay, Governor of Phoenix Rising FC. “It has always been our intention to bring Division 1 professional soccer to Arizona.  But, we will need every soccer fan, business and community leader to quickly come together and support our application effort in order to achieve this incredible goal for our state.”

Bakay led a group of investors comprised of experienced CEOs, private equity financiers, successful entrepreneurs, real estate experts, surgeons and global leaders in the entertainment industry that purchased the Arizona United Soccer Club in August of 2016.

The group quickly re-branded the team as Phoenix Rising FC, negotiated a long-term land lease at the northwest corner of the 101 and 202 freeway in south Scottsdale, began construction of a new, soccer-specific stadium and training facility, and empowered its Head Coach and President of Soccer Operations, two-time ‘MLS Coach of the Year,’ Frank Yallop, to invest in a roster of professional soccer players from around the world.

Phoenix Rising FC will play its 2017 season in the United Soccer League (USL), which was recently awarded Division 2 status by the U.S. Soccer Federation.