USL has announced that the road to the USL Championship title will be going through Phoenix if they are to advance to the championship match. This has been met with great backlash on social media, due to the fact that the tie breaker is based on goal differential. The reason for the backlash is how Phoenix obtained the points and goal difference necessary to host the final.
What Happened with Phoenix?
On Sept. 30, San Diego Loyal left the pitch after it was a player on Phoenix Rising, Junior Flemmings, hurled a homophobic slur at Collin Martin. Martin is the only openly gay, active American men’s soccer player. San Diego would go on to forfeit the match, despite leading 3-1 at halftime. This means that, despite trailing at the time, Phoenix was awarded the three points for the victory.
It was reported that Phoenix attempted to nullify the result. USL denied the attempt due to FIFA rules on forfeits. Phoenix also placed Flemmings and manager Rick Schantz on administrative leave. Flemmings was suspended for six matches and fined by the league for the use of the slur. However, that doesn’t justify giving Phoenix hosting rights for the championship game. Not even close.
What do the Rules Say?
For one, the FIFA rules on forfeits shouldn’t be applied to hosting rights for a final. In most leagues across the world, the champion is determined by the league season without playoffs. For those that do use playoffs, such as the EFL Promotion Playoffs, the final is played at a neutral venue. Or in the Bundesliga Promotion-Relegation Playoff, it’s a two match, home and home series determined by aggregate.
But that isn’t the larger issue at hand. USL is actively rewarding homophobia with this decision. The final likely wouldn’t be in Phoenix had San Diego not walked off the pitch in protest to their openly gay player being abused. There is no FIFA ruling, to my understanding at least, that states that the hosting rights for a playoff need to be decided by points and goal difference, especially due to the fact that those extra points were given due to a protest against homophobia.
USL is Rewarding Homophobia
This decision shows that USL, which has attempted to make waves in social justice, really doesn’t care that much. The league has been silent on the issue since announcing the hosting rights, despite the onslaught of social media backlash. As tweeted by the Athletic’s Jeff Reuter, “If they reward Phoenix for earning points in a game they were losing due to hate speech… yikes.”
USL, make no mistake about it, is rewarding homophobia with this decision. As a writer, I have major reservations about continuing my USL coverage with this decision. I know that I am not alone in that feeling.
The right thing to do would be for USL to take away the hosting rights from Phoenix, simple as that. The only reason Phoenix could possibly host the final is because their player launched a homophobic slur at an openly gay player. If this is something that can be rewarded, then USL needs to take a long look at itself and recognize that they need to do better. In the words of San Diego manager Landon Donovan, “we have to get this out of our game.”