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Real Salt Lake names Laura Harvey as inaugural coach for women's club

By Sean Walker, | Posted - Nov. 27, 2017 at 12:11 p.m.

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SANDY — In 15 days from a first phone call, Real Salt Lake had launched a team in the National Women's Soccer League.

In a similar fashion, 10 days later, that still-unnamed club has a head coach.

RSL named women’s soccer fixture Laura Harvey as the club’s first coach in franchise history, general manager Craig Waibel announced via teleconference Monday morning.

“Once I landed in Salt Lake and went to see the facilities and spoke to the guys there, it was a difficult thing to turn my back on and not continue conversations," said Harvey, who accepted the position shortly before Thanksgiving last week. "Those conversations happened very, very quickly, and here we are."

Harvey is one of just two female coaches in the 10-team NWSL, the top women's professional league in the United States. She joins Denise Reddy, who was recently tabbed head coach of New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC, and the Houston Dash are currently under an interim manager.

Gender wasn't the sole reason for hiring Harvey, Waibel said. But bringing in the club's first choice of coach with the historic characteristics is an added bonus, he admitted.

"The No. 1 goal was to hire the best coach, and Laura fits exactly that," Waibel said. "The fact that Laura is female is something we take great pride in; it’s something that we’ve spoken about as an organization. We want strong female leaders in our organization, to set examples and be in positions of decision making so that we continue to grow, as well."

The job is the first for Harvey since resigning as head coach and general manager of Seattle Reign FC on Nov. 7. She admitted during Monday's conference call that she flirted with international opportuntities, including a look as manager of her native England women's national team.

In the end, it wasn't the time for a move to full-time international coaching for the woman who was the United States U-23 coach early this year for a tournament in Spain (there is no full-time U-23 women's team manager, per U.S. Soccer policy).

“There were conversations, but the decision was mine. A lot of them are based on what I think I need right now," Harvey said. "The England job is one of the best jobs in the world.

“But I think what I need right now is to stay stateside and continue to grow as a coach."

Real Salt Lake will announce the formal name of the club Wednesday, with logo and identifying markers to follow shortly thereafter, according to a club spokesman.

Harvey, 37, rose to become one of the most successful coaches in the five-year history of the NWSL, leading the Seattle Reign to back-to-back regular-season championships in 2014 and 2015, advancing to the playoff championship game in both seasons. She was named NWSL coach of the year in both seasons, but her team missed the playoffs the past two seasons prior to her resignation.

The native of Nuneaton, England, went 51-33-26 with the Reign, statistically the winningest coach in the NWSL's short history. That includes a 13-0-3 start in the 2014 season that led to the best-ever finish in the league's short tenure.

Harvey's coaching style has included a possession-based, defensive posture in Seattle, and she said she intends to bring that same brand of soccer to the Wasatch Front. It's a style that meshes well with the RSL organization, Waibel said, and when the club found itself in position to hire its first-choice coach, they jumped on the opportunity.

"Truthfully every box was ticked in terms of what we wanted as an organization. It’s all credit to Laura; it’s who she is, and not an act," Waibel said. “She is exactly who she says she is, and authenticity is something we really desire here.”

Waibel will retain the title of general manager for the new club, which will look to hire a managing director of the women's side in the coming weeks, as well. That position will work collaboratively with Harvey in her role, giving the veteran coach "99 percent of the influence" in roster decisions, Waibel added.

"When you bring a coach with a ton of experience on every side of this, there is no doubt that Laura’s input will have a massive role in how we build this roster and the team," Waibel said. "We intend to function as we have in the organization; we don’t draw lines in the sand as we build rosters. We’re very collective and collaborative."

While in Seattle, Harvey coached such players as U.S. internationals Megan Rapinoe and Haley Kopmeyer, and Welsh international Jess Fishlock. In Salt Lake, she inherits a former Kansas City roster that currently includes U.S. internationals Sydney Leroux Dwyer, Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy Rodriguez, among others.

The chance to work with the roster in a new market in the 10-team NWSL was a major draw for Harvey.

So, too, were the snowcapped mountains and facilities ranging from Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy to RSL's training complex in Herriman.

"I’m an avid skier," Harvey quipped, while adding, "From a woman’s soccer perspective, (Utah) is full of opportunities. There are loads of Division I opportunities at the college levels, and this is the next step for the area and the state.

"Women’s soccer is huge in the state, and I’ve known that for a long time. A load of players have come out of the state of Utah, which shows how popular the sport is."

A former coach with Arsenal Ladies in England’s top women’s football league, Harvey was replaced in Seattle by Vlatko Andonovski, the former FC Kansas City coach who signed a two-year contract with the Reign on Nov. 7.

“It’s the ultimate trade," Harvey said of the coaching switch. "Me and Vlatko spoke, and I still standby that he is the best candidate for the Reign job. It will be weird playing against the Reign, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s professional sport … I’m just super happy that I could help Vlatko transition at the Reign before any of this came to fruition.

“I will always wish him and the club well. That will never change."

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