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Real Salt Lake women’s team to replace FC Kansas City in NWSL

FC Kansas City is dead, long live Real Salt Lake?

2014 NWSL Championship - FC Kansas City v Seattle Reign Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Real Salt Lake has announced they will join the National Women’s Soccer League, taking over the spot previously held by FC Kansas City. Though the league announcement didn’t mention KC’s ultimate fate, in an RSL press conference today, acting commission Amanda Duffy said the league will have 10 teams next season, making it clear that RSL will be taking someone’s place. As reported earlier by FourFourTwo, that someone will be FCKC.

It’s been a rough year for FC Kansas City, both on and off the pitch. One of their defining players missed the entire season when Amy Rodriguez tore her ACL in literally her first game back for KC after taking time off to give birth to her second child. They finished seventh overall, hardly a great feeling for any team but particularly rough for a two-time championship winner. Their average attendance dropped 43%, coming in at just 1,788 for 2017. They struggled with their budget. And then head coach Vlatko Andonovski, the architect behind the two stars over their crest, left for rivals Seattle Reign.

Fans often speculated that Sporting KC might eventually take over FC Kansas City, but aside from a couple of games at Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting never really seemed that serious or interested. So now FCKC’s team will pack up and re-settle in Utah, where they’ll play at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The deal came together very quickly; in NWSL’s own press release, RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said that they began looking into joining the league 15 days ago and their VP Rob Zarkos said it came together even faster than that.

RSL has actually been bandied about in recent years as a possible expansion site for NWSL, so perhaps bringing the logistics together in two weeks reflects a long-simmering thought from RSL ownership. RSL general manager Craig Waibel said at the press conference that this deal was “two years ahead of schedule” indicating entering the women’s pro market was already in their plans. But it’s still impressively fast - so fast, in fact, that they couldn’t even legally mention the team’s name yet, as it was still getting cleared, and did not yet have a logo or mention if they would bring on KC’s existing roster. But with KC folding, the opportunity turned up now, and RSL apparently did their due diligence by making a visit to the Portland Thorns to look how they’ve built their women’s team alongside the Timbers.

There are some obvious positives here. First and foremost is that FCKC is moving instead of folding, assuming RSL is doing the sensible thing and taking on their roster instead of starting from scratch and forcing the league to go through some kind of dispersal draft. Finding an interested investor, and one that already has some soccer bona fides at the top level, is far, far better than going down to nine teams. If RSL takes the same interest in their women’s team as other MLS teams like Portland and Orlando, they could easily make a quick turnaround from seventh back to competing for the championship.

The downside is the pervasive worry that ownership will treat the men’s team as the “main” team and the women as a side project, although there were plenty of reassurances at the press conference that the women would be treated equally to the men’s team. And there’s the companion worry that if times get tough, the women’s team is always the first on the chopping block to cut costs.

A more debatable downside is that with more MLS-backed teams in the league, the smaller independent teams might find themselves unable to keep up with the rate of progress, forcing them to also find investors to buy them out or fold. The balance between MLS and independent is now 4-5, with the North Carolina Courage kind of in the middle as part of North Carolina FC’s family of teams. But if some teams are ready to push for higher standards, is it really fair to limit the entire league to the pace of the team with the fewest resources? Or is it better to buy out the slower-paced teams and bring in investors with more resources? It’s a positive sign that teams are now able to move to a relatively reputable market instead of folding with shady investors, a la magicJack or St. Louis Athletica. At the RSL press conference, Utah governor Gary Herbert talked about the team bringing an economic benefit to the area, which is what you want to hear instead of the team’s moral importance to young girls (though there was plenty of that as well).

We should expect to hear more details in coming days.

For now, RSL is already in talks with a potential head coach and will bring in a managing director on the women’s side who reports to Waibel. The team will also be playing at Rio Tinto Stadium. It’s a sad day for FCKC fans, who have endured some big ups and downs with a team that has played some beautiful soccer over the past five years, but the overall situation will hopefully end up being a net positive for the league.