Former Seattle Reign FC head coach Laura Harvey has been named the first head coach of Utah’s new NWSL team, Real Salt Lake announced Monday. At the official announcement of Real Salt Lake’s entry into the NWSL, the team said they had one candidate in mind and they have now gotten their first choice.
Harvey is a two-time NWSL coach of the year (2014, 2015) after spending five years with the Reign. She resigned as coach of the Reign earlier this month.
“Thought you got rid of me, but you didn’t,” Harvey joked on a Monday conference call to introduce her as coach. “Wasn’t necessarily the direction that I originally planned on, and I think when I resigned, Salt Lake wasn’t even in the mix at this stage. Definitely wasn’t planned. I’m really excited about it. Really stoked to get out there and get my feet on the ground and get back to work real quick.”
On the call, Harvey also said she was looking forward to being in the state of Utah. “I’m an avid skier, so I’m also excited about that. I won’t lie.”
After leaving Seattle, Harvey had been reported by Richard Farley of FourFourTwoUSA to be taking a larger role with U.S. Soccer. There was also the matter of England’s search for a coach after firing Mark Sampson earlier this year. Harvey said there had been some conversations with England, but said she wouldn’t share more details. Harvey said she was not ruling out working in the international game in the future, but right now her focus is on club soccer.
“Visiting with [RSL owner] Dell Loy Hansen, [general manager] Craig Waibel, [RSL MLS head coach] Mike Petke and others and having the chance to see their vision for the club locally and the sport nationally and internationally, it was impossible not to get excited about what RSL looks to do for women’s soccer,” Harvey said in the team’s official release. “The facilities and environment that we will be able to offer our players are world-class. This is a great place for me to continue to develop as a coach, and I believe we will be able to make a huge stamp on women’s soccer not just in Utah but nationwide.”
Harvey stepped down as Reign coach and GM on November 7 and was immediately replaced by former FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Adonovski, who she called the “perfect choice” to replace her in Seattle. Over the following two weeks, RSL entered the NWSL and FC Kansas City ceased operations, with FCKC player contracts being taken over by the new Utah NWSL team.
“It will be weird playing against the Reign. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s professional sport. It is what it is. I’m just super happy that I could help Vlatko transition at the Reign for a little bit before, obviously, any of this even came to fruition. I will always wish him and the team and the club Bill and Teresa [Predmore] well and that will never change,” Harvey said.
There’s quite a history between the two coaches — Harvey and the Reign lost back-to-back NWSL Championships to FC Kansas City and Adonovski in 2014 and 2015, despite winning the NWSL Shield both seasons.
“In some ways it’s funny. It is the ultimate trade. We’ve basically traded spots. And we’ll see what happens. Who knows in this league? I’ve always said the NWSL is the best league in the world. It’s the most competitive. It’s the craziest. It’s the most entertaining on and off the field in my opinion. And I think this adds another little spice to what that looks like,” she said.
Harvey will inherit the FC Kansas City roster — which includes Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez, Desiree Scott, Shea Groom, Nicole Barnhart and Sydney Leroux — and said she will be speaking with all the players over the next few days about the transition to Utah and the new coach.
“We have a group of players that one — know how to win. This group of players has won championships. And two — have experience with what the league is about. I think that’s important, not just for this league to survive, but this team to thrive,” she said. “This team’s been together now for awhile. I think it’s going to be nice fresh face from their perspective, having a new coach. I’m excited to work with some new players.”
After five NWSL seasons with the Reign, Harvey holds an all-time record of 51-33-26.
“Laura’s record of excellence has been proven on both sides of the pond, and she obviously possesses a vast knowledge not only of the NWSL, but of international players all over the world,” Waibel said. “Much has been made of our whirlwind entry into NWSL over the last 10 days, but we have targeted Laura since the outset as the top candidate for this opportunity. She’s certainly the right fit given our club culture and how she sees the game and wants it to be played.”
In 2014, Harvey and the Reign set a record for most wins in a season with 16 after starting the season 13-0-3. The 16-game unbeaten streak is the longest in NWSL history. Before her time in the NWSL, she coached Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League and was named coach of the season in 2011.
“Our goal is to build the very best women’s sports organization in America, and we were advised from the outset that Laura Harvey was the very best coach on the market,” Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen said in the release. “Only 25 days ago was I asked to look into this opportunity, and we knew we not only wanted to join the NWSL as quickly as possible and participate, but we believe that our current infrastructure as well as the development initiatives on the RSL horizon align perfectly with Laura’s vision for how she wants to build a program – again, with the goal of being the best around. Our community is already passionate about women’s sports, and we believe that empowering and advancing the women’s game accelerates the change to build a better Utah.”
Harvey is one of two women head coaches in the NWSL heading into 2018, joining Denise Reddy, who recently took over at Sky Blue FC. The hiring leaves just one NWSL head coaching position open — the Houston Dash. Omar Morales took over as interim coach midseason after Houston parted ways with Randy Waldrum.