Phoenix FC official: “This is a critical season”

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Phoenix FC knows how disastrous its USL PRO expansion season was in 2013.

How everything — off and on the field — went horribly, unbelievably wrong.

Phoenix FC Managing Director Rui Filipe Bento, who was part of the ownership group that had its franchise rights terminated by USL PRO in November but is still part of the current team management, told recently that the club has learned from last season.

“This is very crucial to us,” Bento said. “We have an objective; to one day to be considered for a MLS spot. To be considered for a spot, we have to do the right things. We know that. We’re not fooling ourselves over here. We’re going to do it. With time. We don’t expect to have a consideration for MLS tomorrow or two years from now. It’s a journey. It’s a working process.

“There are a lot of things to be done. People need to understand that what we did last year is an example of what not to do. That’s it. We know that exactly. Now it’s moving forward. You can’t look back. Any franchise in the world never looks back.”

One step that may be in the right direction is a potential affiliation — and possible sale — to Brazilian power club Botafogo. The club will learn by Thursday whether or not that partnership will go through.

Meanwhile, current Phoenix FC management views this season as “critical” because they know fans can forgive them once, but it will be a lot harder to ask for forgiveness twice. Fans won’t come back again if the same issues pop up this season like they did last season.

Phoenix FC, which went 5-7-14 (second-to-last in the standings) and going two months without a win last season, is still behind on several things in trying to prepare for its upcoming USL PRO campaign. The club has yet to announce any official signings and season ticket information has yet to be released. But official announcements are starting to be released more frequently and heard a recent closed meeting with the front office and independent supporters group La Furia Roja 1881/The Red Fury 1881 went well.

Bento is also saying the right words, while also acknowledging that the team has to act upon them.

“We emotionally have to engage the community,” he said. “We have to strongly engage with the supporters. Those are the ones who are going to take us there.

“Three keys that I learned in my year in running a team. It has to have a home. It needs to be a product on the field to have a winner.
It needs to have its own supporters. Big time.

“How do we get those three things done? That’s the working process. We know what we need. Everybody knows. Many people say we’re dreaming or we don’t know what to do. We know exactly what we need to do. It’s a matter of being financially stable to achieve all of that to do the things right. Forget last year. It’s not what we want for the club. It’s not what we want for Phoenix. Or for anyone. It’s a lot of hard work. But again, we like to do it. We love the game and we want to bring the team to Phoenix. In every country that I’ve been on a team with, the city engages with the team. We need to attach that to the team. It’s very cultural. It’s very down to earth. Phoenix is a very big city. It’s different from all the other markets. There’s a big diversity of people.”

Phoenix FC expects to begin preseason on March 3. The team has scheduled a few preseason scrimmages. Bento said one will be in Casa Grande against the University of New Mexico or players from that program. Because preseason is starting later, Phoenix FC could not establish any preseason friendlies with MLS clubs this year. The 2014 MLS season begins March 8.

“As we move along, preseason will start earlier,” Bento said. “I truly believe next season, we will start in mid-February. Then we’ll do a couple of matches with MLS teams, but right now it’s not possible.”

Besides doing things right off the field, Bento is focused on what will happen on the field.

“Having a winning team, that’s me,” he said. “For me to be here, I need to have a winning team. Everyone says this game is about entertainment. But to me, entertainment is when I have a winning team. It’s always enjoyable when you’re winning. For you, it’s a movie. For me, it’s real.”

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