The end of the 2017 NWSL season gave way to a short period of instability and uncertainty regarding one of the league's already small handful of teams. Soon, that became pleasant anticipation for what 2018 would bring.
In 2014, FC Kansas City were crowned National Women’s Soccer League champions. In 2015, they won the league again. But in 2017, shortly after a second disappointing season and a slew of ownership drama wrapped up, rumors began swirling that they would be folding.
2017 had been a tough year for the club on and off the field, from a hasty offseason sale to a new owner who largely left them operating with the bare minimum to missing the playoffs to their coach announcing a 2018 move to the Seattle Reign. So although it wasn’t a complete surprise, it did leave a bit of a vacuum in a league that had otherwise been getting progressively more stable year to year.
But the vacuum didn’t exist for long: Real Salt Lake announced in mid-November that they would be acquiring an NWSL franchise. And soon after, FC Kansas City officially ceased operations as they announced that their players’ contracts would be transferred to the new Utah team.
And finally, on December 1, the Utah team — unveiled as the Royals — fully came to fruition.
Like few other NWSL clubs — albeit the more successful ones — the Utah Royals will have a formal partnership with Real Salt Lake. The women’s club is owned by the men’s side, they’ll play their games at the same stadium and, in look, feature a lioness emblem that shares the regalness of their male counterpart’s identity. Real Salt Lake seems fully committed to bringing a quality women’s product into their fold.
But before the details about either situation were fully revealed, Kansas City’s increasingly imminent demise and the Royals rising from their ashes struck a bit too close to the Columbus Crew’s possible move to Austin, Texas — something the entire American football community did not react to well.
But aside from the timing of the announcements, the two situations could not be more different:
LRT: Yep. Big difference between selling a struggling team (WNY Flash, FCKC) and moving a team under false pretenses.
NWSL is keeping the league stable, while MLS appears to be undermining it so ownership can keep leverage on local govts.
— Happy Holida(nn)ys! (@DannyPage) December 1, 2017
No matter what, a fanbase losing their team and its players being suddenly uprooted is heartbreaking, but motive matters massively.
And, based on the Real Salt Lake owner telling the crowd “This will be a league with ten teams [and] we’ll be one of the ten” at the Royals’ official announcement, it implies that the Salt Lake City wheels did not begin turning until it was certain, at least behind the scenes, that Kansas City would not be returning. They saw an opportunity to fill a hole that someone else was leaving behind, even bringing a level of commitment and enthusiasm to the team that KC never saw from its owners.
“MLS to Austin,” on the other hand, is cropping up while Columbus’ body is still warm — or, technically, not even dead — not to mention would be bringing a team to a town in which a different team has already failed and been moved once before.
The Real Salt Lake fanbase and leadership seem ready to jump headfirst into this venture, and so hopefully the players find themselves with new fans and owners that welcome them with open arms (and, more importantly, with respect).
The fate of those iconic Dominos sponsorships are still to be determined, though.