SANDY — Real Salt Lake is adding to the family.
Utah’s first-division professional soccer club will announce at a news conference Thursday morning that Major League Soccer’s 2005 expansion club has purchased a majority share in FC Kansas City of the National Women’s Soccer League, and will move the team to Utah in time for the 2018 season, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the deal.
The sources declined to be named because of the private nature of the deal, but one source confirmed to KSL.com that “the deal is done” and owner Dell Loy Hansen will make the announcement soon.
Real Salt Lake called a press conference for a “historic addition to the Utah sports and entertainment landscape” Thursday morning at Rio Tinto Stadium, with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other VIPs scheduled to attend.
Four Four Two magazine reported the transaction, citing anonymous sources who confirmed to the outlet that Hansen will assume control of the FC Kansas City organization and become the fourth MLS ownership group with a stake in a National Women's Soccer League club.
The league, which was founded in 2013, includes owners from the Portland Timbers, Houston Dynamo and Orlando City SC.
It is unknown if the relocation will include Real Salt Lake Women, the club’s semi-professional outfit that competes in the lower-division United Women’s Soccer. But officials with the club, including Hansen himself, have expressed interest in providing a top-flight women’s team in Utah for at least three seasons, as has been reported by KSL.com.
FC Kansas City becomes the second club of its kind in as many years to be sold and relocate a significant distance. Prior to the 2017 season, the then-Western New York Flash announced a relocation effort to Cary, North Carolina, rebranding as the North Carolina Courage.
In an ironic coincidence, the Courage drafted two Utah locals in the 2017 NWSL College Draft: former BYU standout Ashley Hatch and Riverton High grad (and UCLA midfielder) Darian Jenkins.
FC Kansas City entered the league in 2013, and immediately won back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015 under then-head coach Vlatko Andonovski. But the club has more recently fallen on hard times, missing the playoffs in the past two seasons, including an 8-9-7 record in 2017.
The “Blues” have been on thin ice from a business perspective recently, having been sold to new ownership as recently as January and watching Andonovski leave to take the head coaching job with Seattle Reign FC on Nov. 7.
With 10 teams spread across three time zones, a multi-year television contract with Lifetime and a digital-rights deal with Verizon-owned go90, the NWSL has established itself as the top level of professional women’s soccer in the United States — and one of the stronger leagues in the world, both from a competitive standpoint and on the business side.
Early misgivings have given way to allow for the vast majority of the reigning World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team to play in NWSL, and the league has received a substantial investment from the United States Soccer Federation, as well its counterparts in Mexico and Canada.
But on the field, the league finds itself in a minor state of disruption ahead of the 2018 season. With Andonovski’s departure in Kansas City, three teams will be looking for a head coach prior to the season (the Houston Dash and New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC are the other two), and it is unknown who will take the reigns of the new Salt Lake-area team for the upcoming season, which runs from April to October.
Utah provides a market to rejuvenate the franchise and the growth of women’s soccer in the United States, however. The state boasts Division I college programs at BYU, Utah, Utah Valley, Utah State, Southern Utah and Weber State, while Dixie State and Westminster compete in Division II.
An argument can be made that a team comprised of the best college talent from the in-state institutions, as well as the best of the countless of high school players who leave Utah to play elsewhere, could be competitive in a top-flight women’s professional division.
Now they will get that chance to prove it.