Report: Paul Riley Was Urged to Exit USWNT Manager Search over Misconduct Allegations

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IISeptember 2, 2022

HARRISON, NJ - AUGUST 7: North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley before a game between North Carolina Courage and NJ/NY Gotham City FC at Red Bull Arena on August 7, 2021 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Numerous players have accused ex-North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion dating back to 2010, but those allegations didn't come to light until a report from Meg Linehan and Katie Strang of The Athletic was published in Oct. 2021.

However, numerous people in power were reportedly aware of the allegations against Riley between 2010 and 2021 to the point where Riley's effort to become the United States women's national soccer team head coach in 2019 was quietly squashed for fear of those claims coming to light.

That report is per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, who wrote that Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson worked behind the scenes to prevent Riley from getting the USWNT job.

The Thorns fired Riley in 2015 for cause after then-Thorns player Mana Shim accused him of sexual harassment and coercion. Those allegations were also made in The Athletic article, which highlighted numerous accusations from multiple players across different teams against Riley.

However, the accusations were hidden from the public to the point where the decision for the Thorns to part ways was painted by the team as being based on the Thorns' disappointing performance and the coach's desire to return to the East, where his wife lived in Long Island, New York.

Riley moved onto the Western New York Flash in 2016. The team moved to North Carolina in 2017, and he stayed as the manager until 2021, when he was removed as coach after The Athletic report dropped.

Riley threw his name in for consideration to be the USWNT manager in 2019, but Paulson called Courage owner Steve Malik and said it would be a "a good idea" for his ex-coach to withdraw his name. Paulson reportedly told Malik that Riley was fired for cause, and the hope was to squash the potential of the allegations against the coach from coming to light.

The U.S. Soccer Federation was apparently aware of the details as well.

"According to one source with knowledge of the situation, this came after the U.S. Soccer Federation was warned that details of Riley's firing would become public if he was named USWNT manager, at which point it informed Paulson of this development," Carlisle wrote.

Those allegations did come to light, and it has led to numerous investigations into the mishandling of the situation, including one from the independent law firm DLA Piper into the Thorns' actions.

The Thorns were contacted for comment, per Carlisle, and a spokesperson provided the following response: "Out of respect to the ongoing NWSL investigations, which we are actively cooperating with, we will withhold comment until a more appropriate time."

USWNT and San Diego Wave FC star Alex Morgan provided comment after the ESPN article dropped.

Alex Morgan @alexmorgan13

We(the players of the NWSL, especially players in Portland) deserve so much better than a boys club protecting their own. Also, that statement in response by <a href="https://twitter.com/ThornsFC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ThornsFC</a> is just pathetic. <a href="https://t.co/rLU1Z8lWqZ">https://t.co/rLU1Z8lWqZ</a>

The conversation between Malik and Paulson was reportedly discovered by DLA Piper and revealed to over 150 employees of the Portland Timbers and Thorns organizations in a presentation regarding the investigation, per Carlisle.

Riley withdrew his name from USWNT consideration on Aug. 20, 2019, claiming that he "was not interested in the job at this time."