Ever since the rumors broke that FC Kansas City was in trouble due to subpar conditions and absenteeism from the ownership, speculation deepened that the club could be sold and relocated. Far beyond the team's record or on-field performance, there was a cloud hanging over the self-proclaimed "Soccer Capital of America" as the 2017 season ended.
Much was unknown since FC Kansas City played its last game on October 1st at Children's Mercy Victory Field. Then, last week, it all began to unravel as head coach Vlatko Andonovski moved on to coach the Seattle Reign after FCKC did not hold contract talks with the coach who led them to two NWSL championships. Early this week, Real Salt Lake emerged in the picture by announcing on Twitter of a press conference regarding the NWSL. The premature tweet was eventually deleted, but it was enough to catch the eyes of the WoSo world and speculation and rumors deepened, and a day before the announcement, the news broke that Real Salt Lake was replacing the Kansas City club.
In a press conference on Thursday, the league confirmed that a new team would emerge in Utah for 2018, leaving a fanbase broken, more unanswered questions about the fate of FCKC along with its roster, and anger directed at the current Kansas City ownership, the league, and the MLS-based team Sporting KC who could have kept the Blues in Kansas City.
Regardless of where one stands as the news unraveled, it's a situation that is unfortunate and could have been prevented.
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen has wanted an NWLS team in Salt Lake City for years as the league began expanding. Hansen hoped that one day he would be granted a team after its USL objectives were met for a second-tier minor league men's club. However, the opportunity came much sooner, and the Real Salt Lake ownership did not pass it.
“Only 15 days ago was I asked to look into this opportunity, and as we learned about the NWSL vision from the league office and met with A&E executives as well as U.S. Soccer about their aspirations on and off the field, we knew we not only wanted to join as quickly as possible and participate, but we believe that our current infrastructure as well as the development initiatives on the RSL horizon align perfectly. Our community is already passionate about women’s sports, and we believe that empowering and advancing the women’s game accelerates the change to build a better Utah,” Hansen said at the press conference.
By adding an MLS-backed team, the NWSL dodged a situation where they would need to find another independent owner to replace FC Kansas City or continue their search for a willing MLS team or work with a current owner who was absent from FCKC operations. They were in luck that an MLS owner had the aspiration to take on the role. MLS-backed teams like the Portland Thorns, Houston Dash, and the Orlando Pride tend to be the more stable and supported clubs in the league, giving players the professional atmosphere treatment.
Though it has not been officially confirmed, all FC Kansas City players under contract will tentatively have their contracts honored by Real Salt Lake.
If the reports are true, the FCKC players will be treated like professional athletes, and Hansen stated that they would be treated better than the men's team with their own locker room, access to facilities, and play their home games at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The FCKC team never had the luxuries in Kansas City, but they were so loyal to Andonovski that they never publicly complained about the conditions. Swope Park Village, a soccer complex, was just never up to par for the professional level, and playing in Utah will finally change that for the players.
The league may have escaped a dire situation with finding a willing MLS owner, but FCKC not returning in 2018 does not reflect well on the league. Furthermore, this is the second consecutive year that a team will not be returning to its original market (the Western New York Flash relocated to North Carolina in January 2017). Could the league have been able to prevent what transpired in KC before it was too late?
The Kansas City Community and Fans
Without a doubt, the Kansas City community loves soccer. Their MLS team rarely plays to empty seats at Children’s Mercy Park, and at the height of FC Kansas City’s success in 2013-2015 and even in 2016, a year in which they did not reach the playoffs, the fans came to support their Blues. But, for some reason, be it poor marketing, lack of support, or lost interest, attendance dropped significantly in 2017 with an average of 1,788.
2017 was an off year for the Blues, but whether fortunes could have changed in 2018, we’ll never know. Those who supported the Blues - from its supporters group to young soccer players - simply will not have the opportunity to see world-class players come and play in their city, and that’s a shame for the “Soccer Capital of America.”
FC Kansas City
One of the most successful teams in the league’s history will not play in 2018. The two-time back-to-back NWSL Champions are now simply in the history books. Their legacy tainted by the failures of its ownership.
It is still not publicly and officially known what becomes of FC Kansas City. The league stated that there will be 10 teams in 2018 with the Salt Lake City team taking FCKC's place. The league is in discussions with the current FCKC ownership about their status and plans for the future.
Whether they could not financially or did not want to invest in the women’s game, the fact that Sporting Kansas City did not step up to keep FCKC in the city will be a part of the narrative from here on out, which in the end is loss for the KC community and a team with such legacy. The fact also that Sporting KC has repeatedly declined the opportunity, for they have been asked in previous years to invest in the women’s team, shows that their focus is just on the men’s game.
Dell Loy Hansen quote courtesy of the NWSL press release.