MLS expansion hopefuls Phoenix Rising FC add to ownership group

Phoenix Rising FC - ownership group with newcomer Alex Zheng

One of the contenders for the next round of MLS expansion welcomed a new investor over the weekend.

Phoenix Rising FC announced the addition of Advantage Sports Union – headed by Chinese hotel magnate and entrepreneur Alex Zheng – to their ownership group on Saturday, boosting the USL club’s financial heft and global reach.

Founder of the Plateno Group, a large Asian hotel conglomerate, Zheng led a group that acquired an 80 percent stake in French club OGC Nice two years ago. Advantage Sports Union is also building a youth soccer academy in China and a network of club alliances across Asia.

“We were fortunate and flattered to meet with a number of impressive investors who have interest in Phoenix Rising FC, but Alex Zheng was exceptional,” said Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay in a club release. “His amazing knowledge, experience and intellect were only exceeded by his incredible personality and passion for our sport. My partners and I were unanimous in our desire to add Advantage Sports Union to our ownership and Alex to Phoenix Rising FC’s leadership.”

Formerly known as Arizona United SC, Phoenix Rising have turned heads across North American soccer since new ownership purchased and rebranded the club in late 2016.

The organization brought in a raft of owner/investors, including legendary striker Didier Drogba – who came on board as a player/owner last year – and built their own soccer-specific stadium and training complex on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community near Scottsdale. On the field, they finished near the top of the USL standings last season and qualified for the playoffs.

They’ve also inked a deal with finance titans Goldman Sachs to assist with the funding of a larger, MLS-grade stadium on the site should they be selected for the league’s next round of expansion, expected to involve the addition of two new franchises to take MLS to 28 member teams sometime after 2020.