Chris Long of Kansas City NWSL talks new season, expectations and excitement

Chris and Angie Long NWSL Kansas City

Kansas City, Kan. — Chris Long  is “fired up.”

Those were his exact words, too, when talking about his excitement for the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League season. This is his first one as an owner, as he, his wife Angie Long and Brittany Matthews brought the NWSL back to Kansas City.

The tale of the tape from the past three months was a whirlwind of emotions. The NWSL announced that the Utah Royals were up for sale, with Dell Loy Hansen selling his stakes in the team (and Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs). With no buyers, it seemed like the NWSL would compete with nine teams again, with Louisville coming in as an expansion side. However, the Long’s had different plans.

Instead of folding and giving players nowhere to go, the Long’s brought the NWSL back to Kansas City. They didn’t outright buy the Royals — although the Kansas City team will inherit the Royals’ roster and they got their draft picks. Instead, the Long’s had the idea of bringing the NWSL back to their city for quite some time.

In an interview with Last Word on Soccer, Long said that after the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the urge got stronger. Kansas City boasted huge crowds at watch parties and is dubbed a soccer city, after all.

“Our city is so soccer crazed and was so ready for a team,” Long said. “Not just in 2021, but earlier. Post the women’s national team World Cup victory, Angie and I started thinking of how could we get a team back in Kansas City. We’ve been so blessed that it happened relatively quickly.”

Long said that the support has been immeasurable from the community.

“I am grateful to have been able to experience how much people want to love this team and support it, and we’re not even on the field yet!” Long said. “It’s only been less than 60 days since the team was officially in Kansas City, and the notes, the emails, the texts and the DMs, people asking how they can be helpful… it’s been mind-blowing and incredible.”

Community and players come first for Kansas City

Women’s soccer isn’t foreign to Kansas City.

During the start of the NWSL in 2013, FC Kansas City was one of the original clubs. The team had incredible success, winning two NWSL Championship titles in 2014 and 2015. However, due to lack of ownership accountability and support, the team folded and moved to Utah.

Last year, Dell Loy Hansen was under investigation after making racist and homophobic remarks. He ended up placing his entire Utah Soccer Holdings rights and clubs up for sale. There is no owner yet for RSL or the Monarchs, but the respective leagues of MLS and the USL Championship are keeping them afloat. The NWSL, though, did not have the sustainability to do so.

However, the Royals are still on the market with the hopes of acquiring an owner and getting back into the league.

For Long, getting those Royals players in Kansas City was a blessing in disguise. Most of the Royals players were on the FCKC roster, on championship teams. Long said he’s grateful to have players already wired into the community.

“The camaraderie is something I think is very special,” Long said, via a Zoom call. “They know, they trust each other, there’s that level of collaboration. Also, they were leaders in the community when they were here, so off the field activity. They plan to be engaged again. They’re not newbies around the Kansas City metro. As professionals, they know how important community engagement is, so they’re ready to get involved.”

Long said that there is a major focus on community and he, his wife and Matthews have lots of plans for community engagement. He also stated that 10% of all sponsorship dollars will be going back into the community, with the help of some sponsors.

“That’s a foundational element for us, and we’re going to surround that with aspects like engagement and us promoting some key charities as well,” he said.

The players are important and a key piece to that puzzle, since they are providing the product. Long said that there was no looking back on the history of FC Kansas City. He just wanted to move forward.

“We didn’t look back at all. We just looked forward and thought, ‘What are the principles that we should utilize to govern our decision making?’ One is the player first,” Long stated. “You just know, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, these incredible players.”

“These women are some of the best in the world.”

Finding a coach and getting in on the NWSL fun

The first task, of course, was finding a coach. Huw Williams was the general manager of FC Kansas City during its existence. After the club folded, he stayed in the Kansas City area coaching. Long said that he and Angie had their eyes on Huw for a while.

“It was, ‘Huw, this is you,’ not so much a conversation,” Long said. “We’ve watched him coach and interact on the youth soccer level in Kansas City for a long time now. There’s no one better. He is thoughtful with his players. He’s top notch, tactically and strategically, on the pitch. It wasn’t even a search or anything. Huw was the guy.”

Williams added his technical staff shortly after being hired. Now, Long said, his job, along with Angie and Matthews’ job, is to support and acquire what’s needed for a world-class club.

‘It’s their show. We are there to support,” Long said. “To the extent, there is a reach out from Huw on something in particular, we are there. We’re there to make sure they have the proper everything: equipment, nutrition, medical staff. We’ve been making a lot of decisions around the team around the team, so they can do what they’re focused on, which is performance on the field. That’s how we’ve interacted. It’s been, ‘Hey, what do we need to get you so this is a best in-class situation that we can perform in.’”

Kansas City will be featuring in matches at the Field of Legends in Kansas City, which is shared with minor league baseball club, Kansas City Monarchs. Long said that the ownership group for the Monarchs are close friends and have “rolled out” the red carpet for the new NWSL club.

The schedule is coming quick, with the NWSL just announcing that the second annual Challenge Cup will be played in home markets, starting in April. While Long doesn’t know yet if fans will be allowed to attend, he’s hoping that a vaccine rollout for COVID-19 will help bring back normalcy.

However, before touching the pitch, Long had a hand in building the team’s roster… sort of. He joined Williams and his staff — along with Angie and Matthews — for the NWSL Draft. Long called it a “joyful experience.”

“Watching these incredible women and the sheer authentic excitement in being chosen in the draft, it’s priceless to see that,” He said. “That’s an amazing thing to be up in front and in center stage to watch. Second, being there when our technical staff has the draft board right in front of us, exactly what they want to get, how they want to get it. And the ownership group being able to support that.”

“We had a trade that got us in the first round that required cash and being able to make a decision quickly, knowing that the technical analysis of Huw and his team was so spot on, that all we had to do was support that,” he continued.

Collaboration is key for Long, Kansas City

Long is doing more than just collaborating with coaches, though.

In addition to collaborating with the Monarchs baseball team, he’s also joining them on community engagement. One other ally the club has is Sporting Kansas City of MLS. Many NWSL fans seem to harbor negative feelings on Sporting, due to not resurrecting the FCKC team. However, Long said he has a fantastic relationship with Sporting Kansas City.

He even talks to someone from the MLS club once a week — sometimes more — about running a soccer club and gaining advice.

“If you look at the collaboration, we will be training at Swope Park,” Long shared. “We did that in collaboration with them. We met on many occasions to brainstorm to make 1+1=3. From my vantage point, they have been nothing but supportive, positive and helpful.”

Long said that Sporting Kansas City has helped with many day-to-day questions, too.

“Every step of the way they’ve been there with feedback, advice and offers for help,” Long said. “So, I’m thrilled with how our relationship has gotten off from a starting perspective. I look down the road and I know there’s going to be a way for us to further elevate the game of soccer in the Kansas City metro and beyond.”

Gearing up for the 2021 season

With the 2021 season fast approaching, Long said that he’s excited for the possibilities of this club.

Long did reveal that the team is heading to Florida in mid February for preseason training. He also said he hopes to catch a U.S. women’s national team match at Exploria Stadium for the SheBelieves Cup Tournament — which will feature Argentina, Canada, Brazil and the U.S.

He’s also familiarizing himself with NWSL protocols with COVID-19 and following rules and regulations. Long said that, when hiring medical professionals, that was another area that the NWSL club collaborated with Sporting Kansas City.

Long is also building a relationship with Lisa Baird, the commissioner of the NWSL.

“Working with Lisa and her team has been fantastic. Look, they want the NWSL to be the best league in the world. They want to win just like everyone else in their area,” Long said. “They are putting in place everything needed to do that… The league is doing fantastic and it’s on a great trajectory.”

However, his goals are realistic. As an owner, he wants to decorate the halls with trophies and championship medals. But, he wants the team to remember that they are community driven, as well. On the field, he wants competitive play, but deferred metrics to Williams and his staff. Off the pitch, he wants the team to make an early imprint in the community.

And, eventually, he wants to get an academy up and running.

“It’s top of mind,” Long said. “We started discussing it, the importance of it. We don’t have anything set. We do have some guidelines around which we’re starting the discussion, one of which is that we want to be all encompassing. We have a very broad region. It’s not just the Kansas City metro, but all sorts of possibilities with the surrounding cities, which are major cities that don’t have an NWSL team.”

“[We want to] promote the community, promote soccer and elevate the women’s game.”