Phoenix Rising have relinquished USL Championship Final hosting rights in advance of its possible berth in the game after gaining access to a tiebreaker via a forfeit caused by one of its players’ anti-gay abuse of an openly-gay player.
San Diego Loyal made international news when coach Landon Donovan and his players refused to return to the field against Phoenix following allegations that Rising player Junior Flemmings verbally abused Collin Martin.
[ MORE: Five Americans play in Champions League ]
San Diego forfeited despite a 3-1 halftime lead and Phoenix claimed three points that have them ahead of both Eastern Conference finalists. Flemmings, Phoenix’s leading scorer, was suspended for six games while coach Rick Schantz went on administrative leave after video emerged of his playing down Donovan’s concerns.
The Rising play El Paso Locomotive for the Western Conference Final at 10:30 pm ET Saturday, three hours after Louisville City hosts Tampa Bay Rowdies for the Eastern Conference’s berth in the Nov. 1 Fiinal.
Phoenix’s 35 points push them ahead of one Eastern Conference finalist, Louisville City, on goal differential. Tampa Bay has 33 points, one more than the Rising would’ve had if San Diego held onto their 3-1 halftime lead.
The last three USL Championship Finals have been held in Louisville, where league powers Louisville City won in 2017 and 2018 before falling to Real Monarchs SLC last season.
Phoenix says it’s made the move out of respect for the LGBTQ community and that the USL has approved its request not to host if it beats El Paso.
“While our dream has been to host a USL Championship Final in Phoenix, the integrity of our Club and city comes first.” said Phoenix Rising FC governor Berke Bakay. “If we are fortunate to prevail over a very strong opponent in El Paso Locomotive and earn a position for our team to play in the USL Championship Final, we would prefer to shine a positive light on our commitment to the LGBTQ community and amplify the need for acceptance and equality in professional sports.”
Phoenix did not gain any hosting advantage in its home playoff win over Sacramento Republic nor this weekend’s visit from El Paso. Its other playoff win over Reno 1868 was an away match.