PHOENIX — Soccer fans from around the Phoenix-area have flocked to the Copa America soccer tournament at University of Phoenix stadium.
The venue is one of 10 around the country hosting the tournament. Two games have already been played in Glendale, with the third-place game coming up on Saturday. Of all the places hosting the Copa America tournament, the Phoenix-area is the only one that does not have its own Major League Soccer team.
Garrett Cleverly, creator and editor of the Arizona soccer website AZKicksIt.com, said the MLS does market studies, and if the Phoenix-area continues to host international games and fans continue to show up, it could propel Arizona to the forefront of future MLS expansion. He added, though, that fans would need to show up for more than just Copa America or international soccer games.
“The big question is: Are the fans going to support any professional teams that we do have in town, even the college teams,” Cleverly said. “Major League Soccer chooses cities based off fan support. Philadelphia got their team based on fan support. Phoenix can do it to. People just need to continue to support the soccer programs and the teams that we have in town now.”
One of those teams is Arizona United. The third-tier pro soccer team of the United Soccer League plays at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“For Phoenix to get a Major League Soccer team, people need to support the local soccer team. It’s as simple as that.”
Cleverly admitted it’s tough to get fans to an outdoor soccer game during the hot summer months. He said if the MLS were to expand to Phoenix, it would need a soccer-specific stadium with a closed roof for the summer months. Cleverly said University of Phoenix Stadium is great, but just too big.
“Major League Soccer doesn’t want to see thousands of empty seats inside the stadium,” Cleverly said.
Another major factor is money. Cleverly added that a Phoenix MLS soccer team would need an owner willing to put up $300-400 million to bring a soccer team to Arizona and to build a stadium. The MLS is planning to expand to the Atlanta, Minneapolis and Miami markets before the end of the decade, with future expansion possible.
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