A little over a week ago, Phoenix Rising FC shocked their fans and the league when they announced that head coach Frank Yallop was leaving the club. The news came when PRFC were just five games into their 2017 schedule and on the heels of back-to-back home wins. Well, apparently Phoenix isn’t home to Yallop.
In the press release from the club, word came out that Yallop actually lives in Northern California and has “commuted to Phoenix for the past 18 months.” I thought my daily commute across the Valley of the Sun from Gilbert to Tempe was tough. Apparently Yallop has been traveling back and forth a bit further.
The team has indicated that Yallop was not just coaching the club but assisting “Phoenix Rising FC with development of its soccer operations and MLS Expansion bid.” That got me thinking, how bad will this move hurt the club?
Past Lower Division Teams Moving to MLS
A good place to start is to look at the prior clubs who have been granted MLS expansion from lower division leagues. By my count there have been six teams to follow this path. They were the Seattle Sounders (2009), Vancouver Whitecaps (2011), Portland Timbers (2011), Montreal Impact (2012), Orlando City (2015) and Minnesota United (2017).
Of those six teams, only one brought their coach with them. That would be Orlando City. Ironically, Adrian Heath was their first coach and Minnesota’s first MLS coach. It would seem the coach of the lower division team may not be that big of an indicator if a team gets granted expansion.
Record Before Moving Up
Speaking of lower division teams, does it matter what a club’s record is the year before they gain expansion? There has been talk that Phoenix Rising may drop off in performance on the pitch with a sudden coaching change. If that does happen, it might not be a strong indicator. It is hard to know because even if PRFC are granted expansion, it won’t be next year. The soonest PRFC could enter MLS is 2020. That said, let’s look at the numbers for those six teams above.
- ’08 Sounders – 5th place (of 11 teams), 10-10-10
- ’10 Whitecaps – 2nd place (of 6 teams), 10-5-15
- ’10 Timbers – 3rd place (of 6 teams), 13-7-10
- ’11 Impact – 7th place (of 8 teams), 9-8-11
- ’14 Orlando City – 1st place (of 14 teams), 19-5-4
- ’16 Minnesota – 8th place (of 12 teams), 6-7-9
If that’s not a mixed bag of results I’m not sure what is. Orlando crushed it. Vancouver and Portland did pretty good. The Sounders were meh. And Montreal and Minnesota were pretty bad. It wouldn’t seem there is any sort of correlation.
What Does Matter Then?
As someone that spends way too much time reading and thinking about MLS Expansion, there are some strong indicators of who will get selected. MLS has prioritized teams building soccer-specific stadiums, for which Phoenix Rising has a plan in place. The league also wants billionaire owners (or at least really rich ones). I don’t think PRFC has any billionaires, but they have a lot of pretty wealthy individuals.
Another factor is around geography. Of the twelve cities trying to gain MLS expansion, Phoenix has the largest population. It is also geographically located relatively close to the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake. It helps “fill the map” which is something MLS constantly speaks of. Falling into this same area is media market size. Surprisingly, Phoenix is behind Tampa Bay as the second largest media market.
All said, it feels like Yallop leaving isn’t the best of news, but in the grand scheme of things won’t hurt too bad. Only time will tell with two teams to be announced before 2017 is over. Phoenix has to be in the top half of teams aiming for expansion. The problem is they need to be in the top third. A lot of weight would be off everyone’s shoulders if they just make it this round. Otherwise it’ll be between 10 teams and only two more will get picked. Only time will tell.