If you’re scratching your head after reading the title of this article then join the club, because we’re just as perplexed as you are. And no, it’s not a pickup team.
It turns out that Ivory Coast and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba isn’t ready to hang up his boots just yet, and he’ll be lacing them up next season for a new United Soccer League (USL) team called Phoenix Rising FC. The third-tier U.S. club wasn’t technically created by Drogba and Wentz, but the two are part owners alongside Diplo and others.
The team is currently being coached by Frank Yallop, a two-time MLS coach of the year and two-time MLS Cup winner. Drogba is also being joined up top by former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips, who you might remember form his stint with the NY Red Bulls. They’re also joined by Omar Bravo, Chivas de Guadalajara’s all-time leading scorer.
Drogue isn’t the first international to ply his trade in the lower leagues of the U.S. soccer pyramid, but he is the first player-owner in the history of the game when he signed on for a one-year deal. His inclusion in the league, alongside other former internationals like Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer, shows that the league is actually growing.
“The professionalism, financial stability and growth of the USL has created an unprecedented platform for us to attract internationally acclaimed soccer players to Phoenix,” said Phoenix Rising FC Governor Berke Bakay. “Didier Drogba will help us express our appreciation for the tremendous partnership we have received from the League by serving as an ambassador for soccer on the pitch and within USL cities we will be visiting across North America.”
What’s more, league attendance increased over 2016 by 40 percent and the league will continue to draw more funding thanks to the launch of USL Productions, a $10 million content and broadcast arm of the league. They’ve also expanded national and local broadcast coverage withthe debut of the USL Television Network and expanded partnerships with ESPN and SiriusXM. More than 300 games will be broadcast over the course of the 2017 season, so things are certainly headed in the right direction for the lower divisions of U.S. soccer.