Utah is NWSL’s Lucky No. 13, plus a chat with Sophia Smith
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, March 13, 2023
The Utah Royals are back!
The owners of Real Salt Lake in MLS announced Saturday that they’re reviving the Royals, who were an NWSL team for three seasons 2018-2020 before being sold and becoming the Kansas City Current. Which was full circle since the league’s original Kansas City team became the Royals.
The Royals’ first stay in the league was marred by controversy. Owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owned Real Salt Lake, drew criticism after expressed his disapproval of players supporting Black Lives Matter and protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake in a radio interview. Later, it came out that he had allegedly made racist comments. Hansen would go on to relinquish ownership of both teams.
But it wasn’t just that. Coach Craig Harrington was suspended because of inappropriate comments, later detailed in the NWSL’s misconduct investigation. Harrington has denied the claims in the report.
As part of the deal that sent the Royals to Kansas City, the new owners of RSL were given the rights to a future expansion team at a reportedly bargain-basement price.
David Blitzer, whose Global Football Holdings has stakes in the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils among other teams, and Ryan Smith of Smith Entertainment Group, which also owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz, bought RSL and acquired those rights for an NWSL expansion team. On Saturday it became official.
It was really a no-brainer for the owners, who already have the infrastructure for a women’s team in place, as well as an established fan base.
“When we at the league think about expansion, we think about the ingredients in a community that would make a team successful, and you might commission studies or do fan research, but we actually have the data to support and to give us all the confidence we need that this community is ready and prepared and waiting to support this team,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said.
Last July Berman spoke about reproductive rights as one of the things that would be looked at for future expansion teams. Utah has a near total abortion ban that was triggered by the Roe v. Wade decision, although it is currently blocked because of a legal challenge.
Utah has also adopted a law that bans gender-affirming care for trans kids.
Berman addressed the issues at the expansion announcement. I thought her answer was thoughtful, given laws across the country that restrict reproductive rights and target LGBTQI+ individuals. These laws potentially impact NWSL players in Texas, Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina.
“It’s something that we look at not only for expansion teams, but for our incumbent teams. And we have various markets where women’s health and medical rights and resources are compromised and limited, that it’s our responsibility at the league office, to the extent permitted by law, to provide tools and resources for our players to have their medical needs met.
“We have those safety nets and systems in place through the league office where players can have their medical needs addressed even if they have to leave the market and we are here to support them to the extent that’s necessary. We know that the ownership group here is aligned to ensure that that’s the case. So these are not hypothetical or academic discussions for us because we know that we have players, some of whom have had children and some of them are at that age where they need to know that they are going to be protected. That’s the responsibility of the league, particularly where we have franchises in places where those those rights and opportunities are compromised. So the league, the league will continue to make sure that we provide that safety net for our players that you’ve provided for.”
Michelle Hyncik, RSL’s general counsel, was named president of the Royals. She also worked in the MLS front office.
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Moving on to the links:
This past week was another turbulent one for the women of the Canadian women’s team. Canada Soccer released “details” of a proposal made to players for both the men’s and women’s national teams, just a couple of hours before four high profile players, Christine Sinclair, Quinn, Janine Beckie and Sohoe Schmidt spoke before a government panel in Canada.
The testimony was pretty dramatic, especially when Sinclair spoke about an interaction with former Canada Soccer President Nick Bontis.
“I was tasked with outlining our compensation, asked on behalf of the women’s national team. The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say. And then later in the meeting referred back to it as, quote, ‘What was it Christine was bitching about?’ To me this spoke volumes about the lack of respect Canada Soccer has for its women’s national team.”
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FIVE AT THE IX
Last night at the Thorns’ preseason match against Racing Louisville, we caught up with Sophia Smith. Here’s what she said:
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