When Dell Loy Hansen first bought into Real Salt Lake, he had a vision of one day expanding the club to be all-inclusive to help grow the game at every level. That included on women’s side. At that time, the National Women’s Soccer League hadn’t even launched yet, but the visionary Hansen had a passion for women’s soccer born from a favorite pastime for his daughters.
Now with the news that Hansen and Real Salt Lake will bring an NWSL club to Rio Tinto Stadium in 2018, that vision is becoming reality.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s been a dream of mine for seven years,” Hansen said. “When I got to RSL I’d seen three men’s pro matches and I’d seen 300 women’s games. I was much more versed in women’s soccer than I was in men’s. It always just felt we needed fairness. We needed to really make sure we kept our heads down and got the pro franchise here in Utah. An opportunity came and we moved very quickly.”
Hansen has always talked about bringing women’s professional soccer to Utah, so when he was approached within the last two weeks about making it happen, he leapt at the opportunity. That close relationship with his daughters and the doors opened through the game not only expedited the process of bringing a team to Utah, but also stands to escalate the expectations for the club on and off the field.
“He wants to leave a legacy in Utah of soccer. He’s actually always been more passionate about women’s soccer than men’s soccer and he’s super-passionate about men’s soccer so that says something,” said RSL Vice President of Soccer Operations Rob Zarkos. “On the team side, we want it to be the best-staffed team. I think player-wise, we are going to make some very aggressive moves to bring the best players – domestic and international – into this team. We’ve had a nice meeting with people within the community that are interested in women’s sports and women’s empowerment. That’s what this team is about and what we’re hoping to get out there.”
Real Salt Lake and Rio Tinto Stadium are not strangers to the women’s game, either. RSL’s home stadium – where the NWSL club will also play its home matches – has played host to the U.S. Women’s National Team four times since opening in 2008. In addition, Hansen owns the RSL Women in the United Women’s Soccer league (formerly WPSL), a club that won the national championship in 2015.
With six NCAA Division I women’s college soccer programs in the state (compared with just one on the men’s side), the Beehive State is teeming with aspiring soccer players on the women’s side. With an already booming youth system, Hansen aims to utilize and enhance that existing pyramid.
“It’s a top-to-bottom program. We’re the place where women play soccer. We’ve got amazing talents to draw on,” Hansen said. “We’re going to spend a lot of effort to really show the world that this is where women’s soccer is played the best – right here at Rio Tinto.”
In addition to his own passions, Hansen has also surrounded himself with aspirations to grow the game across the board. Real Salt Lake General Manager Craig Waibel spent five years as an assistant coach for Rice University’s women’s soccer program during his playing career with the Houston Dynamo.
Now with a seven-year-old daughter who has spent her whole life around the game, he had a similar experience to Hansen when his own daughters were young.
As the process for acquiring an NWSL team went from possibility to reality, he had the chance to break the news to his daughter. Her enthusiasm when she learned that some of the world’s best players would call Rio Tinto Stadium home was already a highlight for Waibel.
“It’s amazing. To move here four years ago as an assistant coach on the men’s side and now to be responsible ultimately for the success of our men’s pro teams plus the academy and to build out the women’s side is an incredible thing,” he said. “That look in her eye … It’s a pretty cool moment for a dad.”