Best of the 2020 Major League Soccer season The USL Championship will hold its Eastern and Western Conference finals on Saturday. A win for Phoenix Rising means that it will host the title game, thanks in part to the three points earned in the forfeit from the San Diego Loyal.
Phoenix Rising accumulated 35 points during the regular season, tied with Eastern Conference finalist Louisville City FC. However, Phoenix Rising's goal differential of plus-29 means it's the top remaining seed, getting a tiebreaker over Louisville City FC's plus-16 goal differential.
Phoenix Rising FC forward Rufat Dadashov reacts after scoring a goal in the 2020 season opener. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)
A week after the incident against the San Diego Loyal, Phoenix Rising forward Junior Flemmings was suspended for the remainder of the season for the use of foul and abusive language. In addition, Phoenix Rising placed coach Rick Schantz on administrative leave.
Under interim coach Blair Gavin, Phoenix Rising has won its first two playoff games to set up Saturday's Western Conference final against El Paso Locomotive FC. Louisville City FC hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the Eastern Conference final. Louisville City FC has reached the last three USL title games, including a win over Phoenix Rising in 2018 for its second straight league championship.
As a result of its forfeit, the San Diego Loyal missed the playoffs.
"Our guys, to their immense credit, just said, 'We're not going to stand for this,'" San Diego Loyal coach and former U.S. national team star Landon Donovan said about his team's decision to forfeit. "They were very clear in that moment that they were giving up all hopes of making the playoffs, even though they were beating one of the best teams in the league, handily. But they said that doesn't matter. There's things more important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in. And so they made the decision to walk off.
"The players, in the heart of the moment, in the passion of the moment, still wanted to play. They were kicking Phoenix's ass, and that's a great feeling as a soccer player. But if we want to be true to who we are as a club, we have to speak and we have to act."