The USL has agreed to a request by Phoenix Rising that should the club advance to the 2020 USL Championship final, it will relinquish hosting rights for the match.
Phoenix had come under increasing criticism for benefiting from a win via a forfeit in which Rising forward Junior Flemmings directed an anti-gay slur at San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin. When no action was taken by Phoenix or the match referee, the Loyal walked off the field in protest, even though they were winning the match. Phoenix eventually was granted a 3-0 win and three points in the standings.
The USL suspended Flemmings for six games, but the win helped the Rising’s title hopes. The USL Championship conference finals are scheduled for this weekend. Phoenix is scheduled to play El Paso Locomotive FC in the West final while the Eastern Conference final will see Louisville City FC face the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
A Phoenix victory against El Paso would have the Rising host the final because the Rising accumulated more regular-season points than Tampa Bay and held the goal differential tiebreaker over Louisville.
In a statement, the USL said that at a meeting Tuesday morning, Phoenix made the request to relinquish the rights “out of respect for the LGBTQ community” and that being awarded the hosting rights to the final under such circumstances, “was not appropriate and inconsistent with club values.”
The statement added that the league “supports Rising FC’s decision, appreciates its commitment to the community and has approved its request for forfeiture of hosting rights.”
The USL added that it will work with clubs and the USL Players Association in the coming weeks to revise its policies around in-match verbal abuse. Among the issues being examined are suspension length for such infractions, the awarding of match outcomes and individual award eligibility for those found to have used foul and abusive language.
The USL also is moving to implement leaguewide sensitivity training for all players and staff.