Real Salt Lake has signed former Seattle Reign and Arsenal WFC manager Laura Harvey to the coaching position at their as-yet-unnamed NWSL team.
That announcement came today via teleconference with Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel, who will also act as general manager of the NWSL side.
“Over the last 10 days, it’s been an absolute pleasure ... to get to know our next head coach,” Waibel said. “She comes with a vast knowledge of not only the domestic league but also international.”
“I’m really excited for this opportunity,” Harvey said in the press conference. “When I resigned from the Reign back at the beginning of this month, I wasn’t sure this was the place I would end up ... I’m really excited for this opportunity. It’s super exciting not just for me but for women’s soccer in the United States. Everything we’re trying to do is going to be world class, and I’m just looking forward to getting going.”
Harvey’s initial plans hadn’t been to stay in NWSL, but international opportunities didn’t pan out in the way she had planned.
“There were multiple things that went into changing my mind — I looked into some international opportunities and they didn’t feel right, right now,” she said. “I could see he has a passion for the game. He really wanted to have a franchise that was going to be helpful. You can see they all have the same vision and drive that Dell Loy has. Was it necessarily the direction I planned on? When I resigned, Salt Lake definitely wasn’t in the mix at that stage, so it definitely wasn’t planned.”
“The club itself, you can just see it has a vision to be the best,” she said. “Having clubs like this along with all the other NWSL clubs is what’s so exciting for players and coaches. ... You want to be a part of that.”
In the press conference, Waibel said it was Harvey’s personal attributes beyond just her consistent winning record that helped make the decision.
“Over the last week and a half, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well,” Waibel said. “My history in Seattle gave me a little bit of an edge to learn ... Laura is the most convincing of all the people I know that gave me insight into who she is as a person. I’ve spoken to players that have played for her and friends that have coached with her. It’s the quality of who she is a person, combined with what she brings — her intensity, her professionalism, her approach to the game, as well as her endeavor.
“She has no perception to come here and not continue to make herself better,” Waibel said. “You add in her knowledge of the domestic league and her obsession with the international game ... truthfully, every box was ticked. It’s who she is —it’s not an act. It’s certainly not in any way cosmetic. She is exactly who says she is, and authenticity is something we really desire here.”
Harvey said the opportunity proved to be one she couldn’t pass up.
“I’m a big advocate for the NWSL, so I also got on the plane not just for myself, but to help and guide,” Harvey said. “Obviously, we’re super excited about having a new franchise. Once I landed in Salt Lake, went to the facilities and got to speak to the guys there ... it was a difficult thing to turn my back on. I’m just excited about what this could be. When you speak to Dell Loy for five minutes, he’s just so passionate and so driven.”
In the press conference, Harvey described moving the FC Kansas City roster to Salt Lake as a substantial advantage.
“It’s a huge advantage (...) we have a group of players that know how to win and have experience with what the league is about,” she said. “I think that’s important, not just for this league to survive but for this team to thrive. Obviously, this team has been together for a while, so I think it’s going to be a nice, fresh face from their perspective having a new coach. Over the next couple of weeks and couple of days, I’ll be speaking to all the players, and we’ll be evaluating the roster. We’ve got a lot of fantastic pieces here. If there’s things we need from the draft or anywhere else, we’ll be looking at that as well.”
Waibel said he’s already been in contact with majority of the roster.
“I’ve emailed quite a bit with most of the roster,” Waibel said. “I’m set to speak with most of them this week to kind of go through the initial reactions. I’ve lived through this as a player, and there are a lot of emotions that go through the head. For a lot of these players, there’s excitement at the professionalism we’re showing as an organization.”
Waibel said that Harvey will wield a great deal of influence over the roster and the search for improving it, but that the club does still intend to hire someone for a technical director role.
“Obviously, when you bring a coach with ton of experience on every side of this, there’s no doubt that Laura’s input will have a massive impact on how we build this roster as a team. We don’t exclusively draw lines in the sand on the way we build rosters. In terms of where we fall, the lines will be extremely blurred, extremely gray — the front office’s job will be to get the deal over the line, but the coaches will be involved hand-in-hand with evaluation and in terms of who we pursue.
“We will 100 percent look to strengthen the organization and staff — a managing director, titles can be confusing. Laura will have 99 percent of the influence with who we’re hiring in these roles. That is a position we intend to hire, and we want to make sure we hire the right person. That balance is off of Laura’s personality and the organization.”
Harvey said she remains open to coaching at an international level, despite not pursuing that path further at this point in her coaching career.
“International football is something that does appeal to me,” she said. “I’ve dipped my toe, working with U.S. national teams this year. I have a good working relationship with Jill (Ellis) — I’m a huge advocate for the international game. The thing right now for me is I enjoy the day-to-day of club football, and I’m excited to get back on the field on a daily basis. I can’t say that if US Soccer called in, I wouldn’t be interested.”
Waibel said hiring a female coach was not the club’s priority, but hiring the best coach was, but he added that the team will take pride in growing as an organization.
“The number one goal was to hire the best coach. Laura fits exactly that,” he said. “The fact that Laura is female is something we take great pride in, and we’ve spoken about over the last 14 days is having strong female leaders in our organization, to set examples and be in positions of decision-making. The goal was to hire the best possible candidate, and Laura was heads above every single person we talked about. The fact that she’s a strong leader, she’s female, is something we’ll take great pride in.”
Harvey, Seattle Reign’s first coach, abruptly left the Pacific Northwest side after five years on the job, with a potential U.S. Women’s National Team opportunity on the horizon. Her name had also been closely tied to the vacant England National Team coaching position.
Harvey’s tenure at Seattle was a broadly successful one, as she led the team to two NWSL Shield captures in consecutive years.
Before her arrival in Seattle, Harvey won four league titles, three FA Cups, and a smattering of other trophies with Arsenal WFC, one of the most successful women’s clubs in England. While there, Arsenal won a stark 83 percent of their matches. She left Seattle with a 51 percent winning record.