Analysis

Plot twist? How Real Salt Lake's abrupt addition to NWSL could change Laura Harvey's plans

ISI Photos-Jane Gershovich

With the coach's initial plans not yet finalized, the NWSL's newest team may have announced its entry just in time.

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With the change of course that’s brought Real Salt Lake into the National Women's Soccer League potentially comes another, related change of plans, one that sees one of the most successful head coaches in league history become an early candidate for another league job.

According to multiple sources, the “top [coaching] target” general manager Craig Waibel alluded to in the new team’s introductory press conference is former Seattle Reign head coach Laura Harvey, who ended her five-year stint with the Seattle Reign in early November.

The coach that we want is willing to listen.

- RSL GM Craig Waibel

While sources, during Harvey’s transition out of Seattle, said she would eventually be assuming a role with U.S. Soccer, that role was to be informal in the short-term. With pen yet to hit paper, the two-time NWSL Shield-winning boss has now shown an interest in the league’s newest head-coaching job, sources tell FourFourTwo.

“The coach that we want is willing to listen,” Waibel said, hinting the team’s coaching search has already begun.

FC Kansas City, whose players will move to Salt Lake as part of the club being dissolved, saw its head coach, Vlatko Andonovski, agree to become the Reign’s new head coach last week. Upon leaving, Harvey said, via a club statement, that she would “take a bit of time to reflect and decide what the best next move is for me.”

No agreement between Harvey and the new Salt Lake team is imminent, according to sources, though management is said to think highly of her potential fit with the club. Given the short timeframe by which RSL acquired its team, it’s unlikely Waibel has had an opportunity to engage in a full coaching search.

For Harvey, in addition to a potential U.S. Soccer post, the England women’s national team manager’s job remains vacant and still a possibility. Interviews for that position are expected to resume in December, but with Real Salt Lake looking to quickly put a technical staff in place, Harvey may be off the market before England or the U.S. can bring her into the fold.

“We have a really short runway, in terms of getting us started, getting our feet on the ground,” Waibel said, via NWSLSoccer.com. “We don’t walk very often, here. We run ... This isn’t something where you wait around and wait for it to come to you.”

For Real Salt Lake, signing Harvey would be a coup. From 2013, the Reign’s first season, to 2014, Harvey rebuilt a team depleted by injuries and absences, taking Seattle from a seventh-place finish (out of eight) to the league’s best regular-season mark in the span of 12 months. The next year, Seattle resumed its place atop the league in the regular season, becoming the first and only team in league history to win back-to-back NWSL Shields.

In the process, Harvey not only became one of the most successful coaches in the NWSL but also one of its most popular, leaving Reign fans surprised at her sudden departure. Though the team was able to replace her with another of the NWSL’s most successful coaches, Harvey leaves behind a lauded culture she was largely responsible for building.

With many players electing to join or stay in Seattle because of her, Harvey’s ability to define a culture would be among the foremost attributes she brings to any new job. Her style of play, too, defined by movement in attack and relentless pressing in defense, would fit well within an organization which, in Major League Soccer, has become associated with a progressive style of soccer.

Whether RSL can convince Harvey to change course and forgo her international opportunities and join a new project remains to be seen, but as was the case with the Reign, she would have an opportunity to help define a new team, from the ground up. This time, though, she would do so with the backing of a MLS ownership ground, giving her access to resources and facilities she never had in Seattle.

It’s hard to imagine a better fit. The question is whether her ambitions lie in the international game or the club game.

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