When Arizona United SC opened its inaugural season on April 12th, there were no expectations.
The previous Phoenix-area-based USL PRO club, Phoenix FC Wolves, folded after just one year of play and left a forgetful mark on the Phoenix soccer scene.
Naturally, there was a hesitance for fans to buy into the new Peoria-based club, which sprung up just two weeks before the start of the 2014 USL PRO season.
United owner Kyle Eng had the magic touch from day one, though, and has made United into Phoenix’s team in just five quick months.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Eng admitted. “Guys that know me know I’m an aggressive guy but some thought that even this was too aggressive.”
Eng, founder and owner of Arrowhead Advertising, had to build the entire United organization from the ground up in those two short preseason weeks and did so with gusto.
He hired former MLSer and University of Maryland assistant Michael Dellorusso as the club’s first coach and signed dozens of players, including former MLSers, in a matter of days.
It took just two matches for United to pick up its first victory and two months for the third-division side to host MLS powerhouse Los Angeles Galaxy in a U.S. Open Cup match, which Eng says was the highlight of the season.
Eng has had his own personal highlights, too.
He’s called out another USL PRO team for its ticketing mistake and has been known to interact with fans on the live YouTube stream during road games.
The charismatic owner, who helped start the Golf Channel and Fox Sports, doesn’t regret anything and is happy to call his soccer club “one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my career.”
“The journey has been exciting,” Eng said. “It’s had its highs and it’s had its lows but I think the highs have far outweighed the lows.”
United wasn’t able to squeak into the playoff in year one, but won four of its last five matches to secure a ninth-place finish.
Eng promised there will be even more highs next season.
United has followed the USL PRO initiative and has been actively looking for an MLS affiliate and Eng says FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids are two sides that could work for 2015.
Eng is also planning on expanding the Arizona United brand by adding a USL PDL team “within the next 12 to 18 months.”
The Arizona United operation is still so early in its existence Eng doesn’t even know if the club will be playing at Peoria Sports Complex (United signed only a one-year deal with the venue) next season.
Regardless, Eng has made United a Valley mainstay and is appreciative of the outpouring of support he’s received.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say ‘thank you for keeping soccer here’ and ‘thank you for committing to the team,’” Eng said. “We’re committed to keep going.”
Eng’s assurance has echoed true so far and he’s ready to face the expectations United couldn’t dream of five months ago.
But don’t count on him looking ahead; there’s still work to do now.
“I think the most important part of our season is going to be Sept. 7th (the end of the season) to opening kick, whenever that will be,” Eng said.
USL PRO, beware.
Season in Review
ODFCNews.com’s preseason Arizona United record prediction: 10-8-10, 40 points, seventh place finish.
Actual United record: 10-13-5 (-2), 33 points, ninth place finish (four points behind eighth place).
ODFCNews.com’s preseason team MVP: Matt Kassel.
Actual team MVP: Matt Kassel. The Captain was steady all season for United, playing wherever Dellorusso needed him and added two goals and three assists on the season. (Honorable Mention: Long Tan, Evan Newton, Scott Morrison)
ODFCNews.com’s preseason Golden Shoe: Jonathan Top.
Actual Golden Shoe: Jonathan Top and Long Tan. Both players finished with five goals on the season. Top had two more assists than Tan, who appeared nine less times than the FC Dallas loanee.
Game of the Season: Arizona United 2, Oklahoma City Energy 1 (U.S. Open Cup Third Round, May 29th, 2014). United seemed destined for victory until Energy FC forward Kyle Grieg equalized deep into stoppage time. United took the lead in extra time through Bradlee Baladez and was able to become the first Arizona club to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup after keeper Evan Newton saved a penalty in the 118th minute to secure the historic win. (Honorable Mention: U.S. Open Cup comeback road victory versus Portland Timbers U-23 squad)
Biggest Win: Arizona United 2, Sacramento Republic FC 1 (April 19th, 2014). United seemed destine for its first-ever draw until Jonathan Top scored a late winner to give the club its first-ever win against a Republic FC side that finished second in the table. (Honorable Mention: United’s first road victory and shutout against Harrisburg City Islanders)
Goal of the Season: Brad Stisser versus Orange County Blues FC (July 12th, 2014). Stisser’s first-time volley off a cross from Schillo Tshuma’s cross was a thing of beauty. Not a bad way to earn your first goal of the season. (Honorable mention: Top’s curler versus Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Morrison’s free kick versus Los Angeles Galaxy II)