SALT LAKE CITY — There really was only one direction Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen wanted to go when looking for the inaugural coach of the club’s women’s soccer franchise.
Laura Harvey, the two-time National Women’s Soccer League coach of the year in four seasons with Seattle Reign FC, was always the top priority.
Identified even before the formal announcement of the club, Hansen brought Harvey to Salt Lake City over the Thanksgiving weekend, wined-and-dined her at the famous Grand America, and had Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke, general manager Craig Waibel, and a host of other team officials show her around the club’s training facilities at RSL’s academy in Herriman.
To make a long story short, she was sold. Harvey had her contract offer last Thursday, and was officially announced Monday for the new NWSL team, whose team name, crest and uniforms will be announced Friday morning.
“By the time she got on the airplane 24 hours later, her head was nodding,” Hansen recalled. “She went from potentially being the head coach of England or the United States to coming to RSL. One day, she will be — the only out in her contract is if she coaches the national team. I had to give her that one out because that would also be a feather in our cap.
“I hope that I can keep her forever.”
The national team angle is no joke, either. Harvey reportedly had offers from the U.S. Soccer Federation to join head coach Jill Ellis’ staff in an unnamed role, and many even mentioned her as one of the top-three candidates for manager of the England women’s national team, as well.
Harvey's contract with RSL includes an escape clause if she is hired to coach with a national team. It was a gamble Hansen was ready to take, since it meant bringing one of the league's top coaches back into the NWSL for the 2018 season.
Just over a month after deciding to leave the NWSL, Harvey was back in the league with an expansion franchise and a roster acquired from the consolidation of the team formerly known as FC Kansas City.
“When I resigned from the Reign, I don’t even think the Salt Lake franchise was even on the cards at that stage. The thought of agreeing to come back to the NWSL was not in my mind at all,” Harvey told KSL.com Thursday following an episode of the "Doug Wright Show" on KSL Newsradio. “It wasn’t part of my plan at all, but speaking to Dell Loy changed my mind.”
Hansen has big plans for the first professional women’s franchise to grace the state of Utah. With 2,000 season tickets currently sold, the Logan-bred real estate magnate anticipates a packed house, smoke and fire, and 20,000 helium balloons released into the atmosphere for the club’s inaugural home match April 14 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“We’ll have fireworks, smoke going off, and it’ll feel like WWE wrestling with all the rumbling,” Hansen told KSL Sports. “If you are going to be a pro soccer player, Utah is where you are going to want to come.”
Getting the right head coach in place was crucial to the start of Hansen’s latest venture under the RSL umbrella.
In Harvey, the club got a two-time NWSL coach of the year who led Seattle to back-to-back regular-season championship in 2014 and 2015. Her record of 51-33-26 tops the all-time list in the five-year history of the league, which is the longest standing women’s professional soccer league in U.S. history.
She’s also coached dozens of the best players in the international game, including U.S. internationals Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo, rising American standout Jessica Fishlock, and 2011 Women’s World Cup champion Nahomi Kawasumi of Japan, to name a few. Harvey will inherit a roster that includes U.S. international regulars Sydney Leroux Dwyer and Becky Sauerbrunn, among others.
With all those accomplishments, Harvey was ready to move on from the NWSL. She handpicked her successor, former Kansas City boss Vladko Andonovski, and officially resigned from the club Nov. 7 despite having made up her mind nearly a month previous.
“I worked for five years at the Reign, started it from scratch, and I wanted to make sure that whomever took it on was going to move the club forward,” Harvey said. “I didn’t want that hard work to go to waste. She is definitely the right person for that.”
The opportunity in Salt Lake was too hard to pass up, she admitted. An avid skier and lover of the mountains, Harvey saw the state of Utah as a booming women’s soccer market, with Division I teams at each of the state’s six universities, and a national attendance leader at BYU.
“National team members are already calling us — this looks like the place to be, with Laura as the coach, the commitment that RSL has, and the equal and dynamic women’s program to Real Salt Lake,” Hansen said. “We’ll have fun with it, and I think we’ll be massively successful.”
With the hire, Harvey becomes one of three female head coaches in the NWSL. For most of her career, the league has boasted just one — Seattle. With the recent additions of Denise Reddy at New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC and Houston’s hire of former Dutch international Vera Pauw, Harvey sees the role of female head coaches in the league rising.
“I am a true believer in the right person for the right job; I don’t want to be given a job because I’m a woman,” Harvey said. “I think that’s a big battle that female coaches face. We want to prove that we are good at our job, no matter what sex we are.
“It’s great for the league that there are more female coaches, and I think it’s part of our responsibility to help generate the next group that is coming through: current players, retired players, or whomever it might be.”
Harvey’s job will get busier as the offseason roles on in anticipation of Salt Lake’s opening day next April. More staff positions will be announced, more players will move via trade, drafts, or other mechanisms, and Harvey will be involved in each one, Hansen confirmed.
“It’s not just about trades, but making sure we get a roster that we feel can compete, which Kansas City has done that for years,” said Harvey, who is well known across the league for scouting international players. “We know we’ve got a base here that can do that, and there might be a few tweaks along the way.
“We’ve just got to make sure we get the right people at the right places.”