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The Royal Watch: One year later, FC Kansas City ceases operations

This week’s Royal Watch begins a series for November about the fall of FC Kansas City that ultimately led to an NWSL team in Salt Lake City.

Cindy Lara Photos

Because it has been a slow off-season, this week, I thought it would be worthwhile to focus on the developments from a year ago surrounding FC Kansas City, the two-time NWSL championship-winning team that ceased operations last November. Utah Royals FC would eventually join the league, taking FCKC’s spot, with KC players’ rights also inherited by the new Utah club. I look back, like a #TBT, of sorts, and look ahead at where the NWSL is today, so here we go.

What went wrong?

Last September, FourFourTwo featured a piece highlighting doubts on FC Kansas City’s future, that the club could be sold and potentially relocated. There were already reports about subpar conditions (playing at a soccer park, for example), and the team failing to meet league standards (traveling with less than 18 players). The team’s budget was also below the league minimum. The club’s new owner, Elam Baer, who bought the team in January lived in Minnesota and was absent from club operations. Basically, for the 2017 season, FC Kansas City was hanging on by a thread.

Seeing that the situation was dire for the two-time NWSL Champions, the NWSL stepped in to reacquire the club and find a new ownership group to take over the team, which would likely take them away from the city they called home since the beginnings of the league in 2013.

But this was not the first time that FC Kansas City faced trouble. Despite its on-field success, winning the NWSL Championship in 2014 and 2015, the off-field problems surrounding its ownership had created controversy. FCKC’s original owners, Chris Likens and his two sons, Brad and Greg, were rumored to be part of email exchanges that “sexually objectified current and potential NWSL players,” according to the FourFourTwo article.

As the 2017 season wrapped up, much was unknown despite the rumors and uncertainty of the club in Kansas City. Then, on November 7, it was announced that head coach Vlatko Andonovski would not return to FC Kansas City for the 2018 season. Andonovski would, instead, become Seattle Reign FC’s new head coach. The Andonovski news only solidified the inevitable, that the rumors and reports were indeed valid.

One week later, it was confirmed that the league had acquired FC Kansas City, with a new owner in Salt Lake City, ready to launch a new team for 2018.

A new trend?

The league may have found a willing owner, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen, to launch a new team while receiving players’ rights, allowing the former FCKC players to move to Salt Lake City, but FCKC ceasing operations did not reflect well on the league. It would mark the second consecutive year that a team would not be returning to its original market. The Western New York Flash, who won the 2016 NWSL Championship, relocated to North Carolina in January 2017.

After the news of FC Kansas City, two months later, another original club, the Boston Breakers folded. This time, however, though the league tried to save the club, there was not a new owner, or at least not one that had convinced the league enough. Instead, the NWSL went ahead with nine teams for 2018 and dispersed Boston players throughout those nine teams with a Dispersal Draft.

Western New York Flash. FC Kansas City. Boston Breakers. Three teams are now a part of a list who could no longer hold their own. This past season, reports of mismanagement and subpar conditions at Sky Blue FC brought attention and concerns that the New Jersey-based club could be the next on the list. Cloud 9, the club’s supporters group, has called for changes, including that the current owners sell the team while keeping them in the New Jersey area. And this off-season, the Washington Post reported that Washington Spirit owner, Bill Lynch, was in talks to sell the majority share of his stake in the organization.

The NWSL is now at a point where it focuses on stability rather than expansion, for the time being. So, unfortunately, we may see two additional clubs change ownership, and hopefully, it is for the betterment of the league, club, fans, and most of all, the players, much like we saw with Utah Royals FC.