Scottsdale-resident Monica McPherson: The first lady of Phoenix Rising

The metal structures shake. The pulsating beat of the crowd’s jumps reverberates through the stands. Plumes of red smoke rise. The smell of gunpowder permeates the air and among the madness, a familiar face to the entire Phoenix Rising organization emerges.

Monica McPherson (center) is a staple at Phoenix Rising matches, earning her the title of “The First Lady of Phoenix Rising.” (Submitted Photo)

Holding her 1-year-old granddaughter with her left arm and pumping her fist with her right one, Scottsdale-resident Monica McPherson bounces, dances and screams to the sound of Phoenix Rising’s Red Fury.

A leader of one of the official supporter groups for second-division United Soccer Leage franchise Phoenix Rising, Ms. McPherson is not an average soccer die-hard fan.

Surrounded by large drums, giant flags and a multitude of supporters bearing the Rising shirt and colors, Ms. McPherson doesn’t sit for the duration of the match, or the two-and-a-half hours leading up to it.

“Phoenix Rising is my passion, my team, and there’s no place else I’d rather be than at one of their games,” the 51-year old Ms. McPherson said.

But her passion for the team is not bound by the dimensions of the soccer field.

The first lady of Phoenix Rising, as dubbed by Rising co-owner William Kraus, attends every home game and most of the team’s away games.

In her Scottsdale home, Ms. McPherson has a thick turquoise folder with all the necessary information required to travel to all 17 away fixtures.

Each game file includes date, flight information, hotel reservations, car rentals, and game tickets when available. Ms. McPherson said she tries to make it to all the away games but normally misses the Portland and Colorado games due to scheduling conflicts.

“I had to wait for the schedule to reply to a wedding for this season,” she said. “I don’t know why people don’t look at the schedule before they plan anything. If they know me.”

The colossal financial burden, as Ms. McPherson dubbed it, includes owning five season tickets between her and her husband, John.

“I’ve never added it up. I’m afraid to,” she said.

Mr. McPherson normally joins Ms. McPherson for home games.

“I knew she’d enjoy it, never knew she would love it as much as she did,” he said.

Mr. McPherson is from Scotland and is a fervent Celtic F.C. supporter.

“I love her passion for the sport,” he said. “It’s a sport I’ve loved since I grew up.”

He works as a portfolio and project manager at Discount Tire Company and he is missing its annual corporate party in March because it coincides with Rising’s home opener against Oklahoma City Energy.

“Most people that get to know us realize that is our enjoyment,” he said. “That’s the thing we do outside of our family. Outside of our family that’s what comes first.”

Both their Twitter feeds are inundated with messages supporting and analyzing Rising players and games. The McPhersons rewatch Rising matches on their television, sometimes after getting home from the stadium.

Mr. McPherson has a message for people who don’t understand Ms. McPherson’s and his passion for the team: “That’s who we are. You either take us or you don’t.”

The club

“Passionate. Dedicated. Hardworking. She’s all in,” Rising co-owner Mark Detmer said when referring to Ms. McPherson. “She is sweet, she’s loving, she’s beautiful woman inside and out but you get her fired out at a game and there is this red fury that does come out during the games.”

A variety of Arizona businessmen and international celebrities co-own Rising. Legendary Chelsea player Didier Drogba, electronic dance music producer Diplo and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz are some of the famous majority team contributors.

A Tucson native, Ms. McPherson is a popular figure at Rising games. Walking around the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex is akin to doing so alongside a celebrity.

The fans say hello. The players say hello. Security workers say hello. And the club owners and board members say hello. For the Mobile Mini Cup preseason game against Sporting Kansas City, she sported a Rising shirt and a yellow wristband.

The wristband granted her access to the private and secluded owners’ box. At the highest point of the stadium lies a lounge area with bottles of expensive champagne on every high-rise table there.

The club’s new billionaire investor, Alex Zheng, was there. So were Mr. Detmer and other co-owners. And among the club’s elite stood Ms. McPherson. She is not an outsider, as one can tell by the warm and smiling reception. Mr. Detmer greeted her with a hug.

After chatting for a bit, Ms. McPherson went back into her natural habitat: the Red Fury stands. Her dedication to the game doesn’t end with the referee’s final whistle.

When foreign players sign for the team and aren’t familiar with the language or customs of the U.S., Ms. McPherson tries to help.

In the past, she has sent players gift when in surgery, bought vacuum cleaners and food, and made their beds before they even move in to their new residences.

The family

The McPherson home in Scottsdale doesn’t scream Rising at first.

There aren’t any flags hung on the living room wall and no team merchandise immediately lying around. There are, however, pictures of Ms. McPherson’s family. Mr. McPherson, her two sons and her grandkids feature heavily.

There are two more constants in the McPherson family portraits: Rising players Doueugui Mala, from Ivory Coast, and Gladson Awako, from Ghana. You can see them at family outings in Sedona, around the fire cooking s’mores, and at birthday parties.

Even though she said she doesn’t have favorites, McPherson’s face lights up when talking about Mr, Mala and Mr. Awako.

“They’re amazing humans. I’m fortunate to have them in my world,” she said.

In the middle of the interview, Mr. Awako called, something Ms. McPherson called a common occurrence.

Another common occurrence is the FaceTime calls she receives in the middle of the night from Mr. Mala, who goes back home after the USL season ends. But there’s a line she doesn’t want to cross.

When Ms. McPherson and some of the players meet for lunch or dinner, she never posts the location so their privacy can be respected. When she travels to away games, she tries to stay in different hotels. “That’s their time,” she said.

When the team or the players offer her free tickets to games, she declines them.

“That’s not why I’m friends with them,” she said.

Mr. Detmer confirmed the club doesn’t subsidize her tickets or trips.

“I think it’s in her,” he said. “She can’t help herself to want to help others. It’s just who Monica is if you know Monica.”

Chief operating officer Bobby Dulle is no stranger to Ms. McPherson either.

“She’s a familiar face we see in the stands and we can truly count on to be there and support us wherever we are in the country,” he said.

The future

In 2017, Rising submitted an unsuccessful bid to become a part of Major League Soccer, as its team No. 24 or 25.

But they are waiting to see if they can bring first division soccer to Phoenix when the league announces the finalists for 26th and 27th spots later in the year.

It is a dream Mr. Detmer, Mr. Dulle and other high-level Rising members aren’t shy about expressing excitement, especially after Mr. Zheng’s arrival to the club.

Mr. Zheng, a hotel mogul and also part-owner of French Ligue 1 Club OGC Nice, will provide the capital Rising requires to potentially build a larger stadium and enhance its MLS bid. The team unveiled Thursday, March 15 renderings for a 21,000-seat stadium.

In the past, bids have cost clubs up to $250 million. $100 million of those in stadium construction or renovation, and the extra $150 million in paying MLS a franchise fee.

Ms. McPherson isn’t as steadfast on the club achieving Major League Soccer status as the owners are.

She said that while MLS may benefit the club and the city, she would be sad to see a lot of players leave since the standard of football would be raised. But she would still support them, no matter what.

“I’m all in with this team,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Ricardo Ávila is a student-journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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