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A club folding is one of the worst possible experiences for supporters to go through. It’s like a piece of your heart gets ripped out, leaving a gaping hole in its place. In many cases, that hole stays empty.
But there are those rare circumstances when something amazing occurs, and that piece of your heart gets restored. That’s what’s happening in Kansas City.
Professional women’s soccer will return to Kansas City for the first time since 2017, filling a hole that had been left in many supporters’ hearts.
“We’re just ecstatic. We’re over the moon about it,” said Kat McIntyre, founder of the KC Blue Crew supporters group.
McIntyre founded the Blue Crew in 2012, when Kansas City FC was announced as an original NWSL club. They started small, but their membership grew year over year, and by 2017 they had more than 60 Blue Crew members.
“I feel bad for new fans now, because they’ll never understand what it was like back then, it was almost like the Wild West with some of the access we had,” said Danielle Russell, media director for the Blue Crew. “It felt like we were involved with something special.”
Over the course of five seasons, FCKC excelled on the field, winning the 2014 and 2015 NWSL Championships, introducing a sharp, passing-based style from a then-unknown coach named Vlatko Andonovski, and giving stars like Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Holiday a spotlight to shine.
But poor leadership across two ownership groups caused attendance to dip and local awareness of the club to lag.
In November of 2017, the hammer dropped. The league announced that FCKC would be dissolved and all players contracts would be transferred to a yet-to-be-named ownership group in Utah.
Russell, who was visiting Austin with friends when the news broke, popped out to the rental car so she could be alone to cry.
“It was devastating,” said Russell. “Especially with supporters, it's everything about your life and then it's gone.”
“It truly felt like we had lost our family,” said McIntryre. “We had grown really close to the team, the players, they knew, they knew a lot of us by name and we were always so excited to see them. It just felt like we were losing so much.”
As shock set in, the Blue Crew scrambled to make sure that they could all stay in touch, especially with its many out-of-state members.
“It turned into, ‘When are we going to see each other next?’” said McIntyre. “We jokingly started calling it Friends Club Kansas City.”
As the NWSL carried on without their club, members of the Blue Crew found their own next steps in terms of support. Some followed the Utah Royals, some chose other NWSL clubs to support. Others took some time away from the league altogether. Everyone moved on in their own way.
Then, in the summer of 2020, Utah Royals supporters endured their own nightmare, as owner Dell Loy Hansen’s controversial remarks, and revelations of inappropriate past behavior, sparked rumors that the club would be put up for sale.
“I never expected the Utah team to come back [to Kansas City],” said McIntyre. “I knew Utah was a great market, I knew they had success there. So, I was really shocked that they were going to leave Utah.”
But in December of 2020 the NWSL announced that an expansion team in Kansas City would join the league in 2021, replacing the Utah Royals.
It was actually happening. The thing that never happens. The thing that so many fans thought was dead, was once again alive. Professional women’s soccer in Kansas City was coming back.
“It felt so weird,” said Russell. “We had convinced ourselves that the league would never let KC get a team again, so let’s not get our hopes up. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, sometimes good things do happen.’”
Blue Crew leadership had a three hour zoom meeting the night the news broke. They dusted off and fired up all of the membership services and social accounts they had shut down back in 2017. They schemed about new plans, new ideas, a future.
“Some of us have started families, so at first we’re like, ‘Maybe we won’t be so involved,’” said McIntyre. “But before we knew it, we were all like, ‘Ok, we’re doing this, and this, and that. We’re all so excited.”
But even as they basked in their elation, Utah supporters weren’t far from their minds. Having just lost their own team a few years earlier, the Blue Crew were some of the few people who knew exactly how Utah supporters felt.
“We posted on Twitter, we made sure to let them know, you have to do what you have to do, whether it’s follow this team, whether it’s to go to another team, whether it’s to quit watching for a while. It hurts, so you take care of you,” said Russell.
The future feels bright in Kansas City and the Blue Crew is relishing a second chance, this time with the full weight of supportive owners behind them. When Chris and Angie Long, the husband-and-wife co-founders of Palmer Square Capital Management, and former collegiate soccer player Brittany Matthews (who is also engaged to Kansas City Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes) were announced as the ownership group, one of the first things they did was connect with supporters.
“The ownership group being involved is huge,” said McIntyre. “They’ve already shown us so much more than we can imagine, so much more than what we were used to three years ago. It’s been amazing.”
The ownership group’s involvement has sparked a wider excitement for the club within Kansas City, something McIntyre did not feel the first time around.
“I have people reaching out to me saying, ‘Hey, I see the team is back!’ Family members who have never talked about the team before are excited about it,” McIntyre said. “When I wear Blue Crew gear out in public now, people see it and are like, ‘Hey there!’ It’s just really refreshing.”
Bolstered by this bump, the Blue Crew is hoping to use their platform to strengthen the bonds between the club, the fans and the community.
“We’re really focusing on community involvement,” said McIntyre. “How can we make a difference in our community while also supporting this team that brings so much to our community?”
Losing a club leaves scars, and deep down, many fans can’t shake a feeling that maybe this go-round in Kansas City will end in as much heartbreak as the last one. But that just pushes fans to work even hard to make the club a success.
“I think it is there, because we lost it before, so we know that it could go away again,” said Russell. “But we’re already close to triple our number for paid members compared to that last season, all before a game has even started. I’ve seen people talk on our Blue Crew channels and say ‘We’re not going to let them go this time, we’re not letting this go.’ So I think there is a feeling of, ‘Oh this happened, we can’t let it happen again.’”
Kansas City (which is using the placeholder name KC NWSL for the 2021 season, and will go through a proper branding process ahead of the 2022 season) will play its first official match on April 9th against the Portland Thorns in the Challenge Cup.
It’s a day that Blue Crew members have been dreaming about for years, a day that they weren’t sure would ever come.
“I don’t think it’s real yet,” said McIntyre. “I can’t wait to take my daughter to a game, to see her face and cheer on the team that I love so much and support this great city. It really seems unreal right now. I’m just so excited to see my friends again, to be a part of this great organization and make sure this league is around for years to come. I’m so super excited.”