National Women’s Soccer League cancels games following abuse claims

Washington Spirit forward Trinity Rodman (2) makes a move between several defenders during the NWSL game between Kansas City and Washington Spirit September 26, 2021 at Segra Field in Leesburg, VA.

Randy Litzinger | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

The National Women’s Soccer League has called off its weekend games after former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual abuse.

“This week, and much of this season, has been incredibly traumatic for our players and staff, and I take full responsibility for the role I have played. I am so sorry for the pain so many are feeling,” National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement Friday. “Recognizing that trauma, we have decided not to take the field this weekend to give everyone some space to reflect.”

The announcement comes after accusations of sexual coercion against Riley, who led the Courage to back-to-back NWSL championships in 2018 and 2019, surfaced this week.

As a result, the Courage on Thursday terminated Riley for his “very serious allegations of misconduct.” Riley has denied the allegations.

The allegations have been reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport for investigation, Baird said in a Thursday statement.

The accusations against Riley also come as the Women’s sports industry grapples with a string of different allegations against various sports figures in recent years.

Last week, Florida women’s basketball players detailed allegations of abuse against former coach Cam Newbauer. And more than 150 women, including decorated U.S. Olympian Simone Biles, came forward accusing Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics, of sexual abuse during his 18 year tenure. Nassar pleaded guilty to charges of criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges in 2017.

The National Women’s Soccer League was established in 2012 as the successor to Women’s Professional Soccer. In addition to the Courage, the National Women’s Soccer League has nine other teams, including the Chicago Red Stars, the Houston Dash, the Orlando Pride and the Washington Spirit, among others.

A report released by The Athletic Thursday morning detailed the allegations after interviewing over a dozen players who played under Riley since 2010. 

Former soccer player Sinead Farrelly said she had experienced “multiple incidents where she felt coerced into having sex” with her coach, according to the Athletic. Farrelly was coached by Riley during her time with the Philadelphia Independence, New York Fury and Portland Thorns, telling the outlet, “I felt under his control.”

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