Utah Royals to relocate to Kansas City as organization crumbles
The NWSL is heading back to Kansas City and is taking Utah Royals FC along with it. Due to massive internal issues within the club from owner Dell Loy Hansen to former Head Coach Craig Harrington, Utah Royals FC’s time in the Beehive state has expired. Per Alex Vejar of The Salt Lake Tribune, "The sale of the team is not yet finalized, but is expected to be soon, per reports."
The Royals kicked off their inaugural season on March 24th, 2018. From the first whistle, Utahns were sold and they showed up. Despite their short-lived existence, the Royals welcomed an average of 10,000 fans, higher than every other NWSL team, minus the Thorns FC of Oregon. Cheering at Rio Tinto Stadium, the home of the Royals was an unparalleled experience. With a sea of gold filling the seats in Sandy, Utah, the Royals were loved by their fans. So how did everything fall apart?
The fans were there, the talent was there, and from the beginning, it appeared that the ownership was committed to creating a top atmosphere for its players. When we watched Royals games, we saw the talents of Vero Boquete, the goal scoring prowess of Christen Press, and the pure grit of Desiree Scott. We sat back as Amy Rodriguez weaved her way through defenders, we were in awe of Becky Sauerbrunn, and we marveled at the versatility of Katie Bowen. But, we didn’t see what was going on behind the scenes. We weren’t aware of the actions of leadership at Real Salt Lake, the MLS club in Utah or of owner Dell Loy Hansen. According to Vejar, Andy Carroll, RSL’s chief business officer said he “preferred only the Royals players he deemed “pretty” to appear in promotions”. Carroll also frequently made disparaging remarks about Royals players, commenting on their sexual orientation and their appearance according to Vejar.
We also had no idea that Head Coach Craig Harrington allegedly made several comments of a sexual nature to staff members according to The Athletic. Per Vejar, "Two sources with knowledge of the situation, who were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Harrington was placed on leave after players complained he was being “verbally abusive.”
Harrington, formerly an assistant at the Chicago Red Stars came to Utah when beloved Head Coach Laura Harvey left the team to coach a United States Youth National Team. Following Harvey’s departure, Dell Loy Hansen hired Harrington to be head coach. In light of the allegations made against Harrington, he was put on administrative leave and eventually fired after just a few months on the job. Following Harrington's dismissal, Amy LePielbet, former USWNT player and former second assistant coach to Laura Harvey was tapped as interim Head Coach. In addition to coaching the Royals, LePeilbet serves as head coach of the Utah Royals FC Reserves, a successful semi-pro team that competes in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. Unlike most other coaches, LePeilbet actually played in the league and its predecessors, as well as on the USWNT. A former defender for FC Kansas City, LePeilbet’s experience is unmatched and is a beacon of hope for the club as they move back to Kansas City, a former NWSL city.
We were never aware of all that went on behind closed doors in Sandy, Utah, the Utah Royals were gritty, hardworking, and excellent. Though the Royals may be leaving Utah, the hearts of Utahns and the support from fans globally will follow the Royals wherever they go.