Utah Royals to return next season as NWSL's 13th team

The Royals are returning to Utah and the National Women's Soccer League.

The NWSL and Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake announced the second iteration of the Utah Royals on Saturday. The Royals were part of the NWSL for three seasons from 2018 to 2020.

“When we acquired Real Salt Lake last year, we said it was a matter of when, not if, the NWSL would return to Utah. This has always been an integral part of our mission,” RSL co-owner David Blitzer said in a prepared statement.

Michelle Hyncik, RSL’s general counsel, was named president of the Royals. America First Credit Union will be the team’s jersey sponsor.

When FC Kansas City, one of the NWSL's founding clubs, folded in 2017, its players were transferred to a new team in Utah owned by Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake. The original Royals folded in 2020 after Hansen relinquished ownership of both clubs.

In an interview with a local radio station, Hansen had criticized MLS players for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and for protesting the August 2020 shooting by police of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In the fallout from Hansen's remarks, he announced he would sell.

Chris and Angie Long, co-founders of Kansas-based Palmer Square Capital Management, acquired the Royals in late 2020 and moved the team back to Kansas City.

The sale of the original Royals stipulated that the buyers of Real Salt Lake would have rights to a future NWSL expansion franchise for a set fee. Early last year, MLS approved the sale of RSL to Blitzer and Smith Entertainment Group, which also owns the NBA's Utah Jazz,.

The NWSL is expected to add another team for 2024, bringing the league to 14 teams. A future team in Boston is also planned.

The Royals' short first tenure in the league was tainted by controversy. Coach Craig Harrington was put on paid administrative leave in September 2020 and later dismissed for allegedly making inappropriate comments.

The allegations were detailed in the NWSL's report on a league-wide investigation into abuse and misconduct released in December. Harrington denied the reports.

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in July that the league would consider a state's stand on reproductive rights in awarding expansion franchises.

Utah has near-total abortion ban that was triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but it is currently blocked by a restraining order. It was unclear whether the state's stance figured into discussions about the franchise.


AP freelancer Matthew Coles in Sandy, Utah, contributed to this report.


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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press