Arizona United owner Kyle Eng says large crowds for Copa America matches at University of Phoenix Stadium bodes well for Phoenix soccer growth and a potential MLS franchise down the line.
University of Phoenix Stadium has hosted two Copa America matches and will host another next week, on June 25. A match featuring Mexico vs. Uruguay attracted 60,125 fans to a stadium holding 63,400, but a Peru vs. Ecuador match drew only 11,937. (That seems to be the pattern for Copa America this year: Mexico and the United States draw extremely well, but matches with other countries do not draw very well by comparison.)
Despite the mixed results, Eng says that the tourney should spur Phoenix soccer growth. His team, Arizona United SC, plays out of Peoria Sports Complex and draws between 1,100 and 3,700 fans a game. That’s not enough to draw the interest of MLS officials, but Eng is hoping that by laying the groundwork now, he’ll be in a position to be part of a move from USL to MLS down the line. From Arizona PBS:
Eng said Arizona United’s ultimate goal is to become an MLS team, but he understands that could take a while in a market that already has four major professional sports teams – the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Suns and Coyotes – along with the Mercury and Rattlers.
“Winners aren’t built overnight,” Eng said. “We’re up against some iconic brands in this town who’ve had a 20-year head start. We have to go about growing it differently.”…
Eng believes another step in the process is the cultivation of the sport among young athletes in Arizona.
“Soccer is the fastest-growing sport among youths,” Eng said. “Along with Hispanics, we are trying to get them involved as much as possible. (The United) have the team and a great coach. Hopefully everything comes together.”
MLS will be a challenge. Right now there’s little talk of Phoenix as a potential MLS market, and it will only get more expensive to buy into the league over time.
Image courtesy Arizona United SC.