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Phoenix Rising Shows Promise While Other Arizona Teams Falter

Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks have faded from postseason contention. Football’s Arizona Cardinals are off to an dreadful 0-2 start. Hockey’s Arizona Coyotes and basketball’s Phoenix Suns remain in rebuilding mode as they begin their seasons this fall.

But the Phoenix Rising is doing just as their name implies, as the lone Arizona pro sports team on the rise at the moment.

Arizona’s highest level soccer franchise has taken big steps this season on its way to another berth in the playoffs and their ultimate goal of playing in the America’s top pro league, Major League Soccer. They currently lead the western conference of the United Soccer League, considered a step below the MLS.

If suffering through a Valley summer can get you ready for the big leagues, the Rising are well on their way. While soccer practice in over 100 degrees heat isn’t ideal, head coach Rick Schantz says it has its advantages.

“You’re pushing your body — very similar to altitude training," he said. "So we feel it’s a massive advantage to us to be training in this type of weather.”   

The Rising usually practice late morning and generally play their games in the evenings to avoid the worst of the heat.

Phoenix native and former Grand Canyon University star Evan Waldrep has been sweating it on Valley soccer fields as long as the 21-year-old midfielder can remember.

“You can never really get used to it. I’ve been through it many times, and it’s miserable,” Waldrep admitted.

Whether it’s conditioning from the grueling heat, the often sellout crowds at their pop-up stadium in Tempe or the leadership of striker, part-owner and international superstar Didier Drogba, the Rising find themselves well positioned for the bigger goal — to impress Major League Soccer officials in order to be promoted to the league next season.

“With the attendance being what it has and the crowd support and the fans really getting behind Phoenix Rising,” Schantz said. “We all believe if we’re winning and people keep supporting it, maybe we’ll get that MLS franchise.”

Waldrep, the Arizona kid, agreed.

“It’s an untapped market and I think there’s definitely a future for an MLS team in Arizona,” he said.

Team officials say the Phoenix market is the largest in the country currently without an Major League Soccer franchise.

Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.