U.S. Soccer suspends coach’s license after former players allege misconduct

U.S. Soccer announced Thursday that it has suspended the coaching license of North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley after the publication of an article that included accusations of misconduct by some former players. Riley, who was also fired by the Courage on Thursday, has denied having any sexual contact with players. 

In an article from The Athletic, two women who played for Riley alleged he coerced them into kissing each other, and one alleged he coerced her into sex.  Riley told The Athletic that “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.”

U.S. Soccer said it was “deeply disturbed by the recent reports of misconduct,” writing that “the abusive behavior described by the courageous athletes who have come forward is repulsive, unacceptable and has zero place in soccer or society.” The Courage issued a similar statement, writing that they dismissed Riley “following very serious allegations of misconduct.”

National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird said she was “shocked and disgusted” to learn of the allegations, and has reported the claims to the US Center for SafeSport.

Former player Sinead Farrelly, who played for Riley on multiple teams, claimed in The Athletic article that he coerced her into having sex with him. Farrelly and colleague Mana Shim also alleged that when they played for him on the Portland Thorns for the 2014-2015 season, he coerced them into kissing each other. The women also claimed he made inappropriate comments about their bodies, sexual orientation and relationships. 

Paul Riley
North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley before a game in New Jersey on August 7, 2021. Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty

In a statement to The Athletic, Riley called the allegations “completely untrue.” The Athletic reported that he acknowledged making comments that some players may have found offensive, but said  “I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.” He denied ever taking his players out drinking or making any sexual advances towards them. 

The women also claimed Shim filed a complaint against Riley to the Thorns at the end of the 2015 season and said they both spoke with an HR representative about Shim’s alleged experience. The team announced soon after that Riley’s contract would not be renewed, but did not cite a specific reason, according to The Athletic. Riley then worked with the Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage. He was the National Women Soccer League coach of the year in 2017 and 2018.

The Thorns confirmed in a Thursday statement that they received a complaint about Riley from a player in 2015. The team said it conducted a “thorough investigation,” and that while it did not discover any illegal activity, it did find “clear violations of our company policies.”

“Based on this, we chose to sever ties with Riley,” the team said. “The findings of the investigation were fully shared with the NWSL league office.” 

“We want to thank Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly for bravely speaking out and fully apologize to them for our role in the abuse they detailed,” the club said. “We have grown since 2015 as an organization and will continue to seek to improve and get better. We will fully cooperate with any additional inquiries into this matter and more importantly, re-examine our own processes and protocol that are intended to ensure a safe space.”   

Professional soccer stars and Olympians such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan criticized the league’s handling of the accusations on Thursday. Sauerbrunn, captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team, said, “NWSL, it’s time to get your s*** together.”

“To be where we are today is unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “The league and every club have to do better.”

“Never once during this whole time was the right person protected. Not Mana, not Sinead, not us not the players not the little girls who will become us not the big girls who already are us not any of U.S.,” said Rapinoe, of the OL Reign. “This statement is beyond disrespectful.”

Morgan, of the Orlando Pride, called on the league to accept responsibility. “The league was informed of these allegations multiple times and refused multiple times to investigate the allegations,” she tweeted. “The league must accept responsibility for a process that failed to protect its own players from this abuse.”