The National Women's Soccer League announced that the league will return to Kansas City as the news that the Utah Royals will relocate there for the 2021 season became official on Monday. The Royals, the NWSL team under the MLS Real Salt Lake organization, first moved moved to Utah from Kansas City three years ago, and are now returning to the city where the club originated, although technically this version of Kansas City is classified as an expansion team. The news comes just months ahead of the 2021 NWSL season.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for our league, and I'm absolutely thrilled to welcome Kansas City back to the NWSL," said NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird. "Kansas City is a soccer-rich community, and this fantastic ownership group is ready and able to commit the resources necessary for this club to be a massive success. I'd also like to thank the fans in Utah for their incredible support of the NWSL."
A new ownership group out of Kansas City led by Angie and Chris Long of Palmer Square Capital will be tasked with ensuring the team is good position compete on a tight timeline.
"Chris and I could not be more ecstatic to welcome a team back to Kansas City, especially as the league has been transformed by innovative leadership and explosive growth. We are committed to getting this right – for our team and our town," said Angie Long. "We can't wait for the players and the country to see what we have long known: there's something special about living in Kansas City and something even more special about playing here."
The ownership group includes former professional soccer player Brittany Matthews, who owns an online fitness and apparel company. Matthews played professionally overseas in Iceland and is also engaged to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
"As a former collegiate and professional soccer player, I have a true level of appreciation for what these incredible women do on a daily basis. I am honored to be part of an amazing ownership group that is passionate about the game and eager to welcome a NWSL team back to Kansas City," said Matthews. "We have the greatest fans and community here in KC and I can't wait to huddle around this team – we want more championship parades in the very near future!"
The sale of the Royals was finalized by the league after a months long complicated transaction stemming from disturbing reports around the Real Salt Lake organization and owner Dell Loy Hansen. This summer, reports of a toxic culture throughout the organization involving years of racist and sexist comments from Hansen and staff, surfaced highlighting a long time problem within RSL management.
"We love the Utah soccer community and have been honored to work with these world-renowned professional women athletes," said owners Dell Loy and Julie Hansen. "We will truly miss our athletes who have become our friends. We lend our full support to new owners who can continue our vision to have the women's team equal to the men's team in time, facilities, and resources and who can help shepherd the team into a new era of growth and success."
In light of the reports and investigations, Hansen agreed to sell off his assets in the Utah soccer holdings. RSL, Real Monarchs, Utah Royals FC, and RSL Academy are all under the Real Salt Lake umbrella, along with two stadiums and a training facility. In the event Hansen is unable to sell by January, MLS is on standby. With a limited timeline and resources, NWSL looked to ensure the survival of the team even if it meant the side would relocate.
The announcement includes a mutually benefit decision between the league and Utah to allow new ownership to re-establish the Utah Royals FC name and franchise at Rio Tinto Stadium two years from now, in 2023, hence the technical classification of the team in Kansas City as an expansion side.
The news of the Royals relocation will mark the return of women's pro soccer back to Kansas City. It's a bittersweet and complex story, as Hansen and the Real Salt Lake brand had stepped into the NWSL market back in 2017 in light of struggling former NWSL club, FC Kansas City.
The former two-time NWSL champion FC Kansas City were then lead by current USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, and featured current Royals players Amy Rodriguez, Desiree Scott, and Lo'eau LoBonta. FCKC operations ultimately dissolved amidst struggling attendance and a brief ownership change from 2016 to 2017, and the solution to retain the club came in the form of a relocation to Utah as part of the larger RSL organization.
The emergence of Hansen and the RSL brand was viewed as a welcome changed for the league as there was immediate upgrades in facilities and resources for the then newly branded Utah Royals FC. In their short history, Utah averaged the second best attendance in NWSL drawing nearly 11,000 fans per game.
Despite past NWSL history in Kansas City, the market and its new ownership are invested, both literally and figuratively in making Kansas City a thriving women's soccer market again. Monday's announcement also included the first managerial news for the NWSL Kansas City team as the new ownership group named former FC Kansas City General Manager Huw Williams as head coach of the new NWSL Kansas City club.
"I'm thrilled and humbled to have earned the trust of the Long family and their ownership group, and look forward to representing our city and our players in the NWSL. I've long admired Angie and Chris not only professionally, but as friends. They bring a drive to succeed and a commitment to providing all the tools we need to deliver for our players and their fans," said Coach Williams, "I'm excited to work with all the players, and to reconnect with those I already know. In a league full of talent, it's no surprise this roster is stacked with incredible athletes. I can't wait to get started."