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Ex-Philadelphia Independence coach Paul Riley fired from NWSL team amid allegations of sexual misconduct

Havertown native and former Philadelphia Independence player Sinead Farrelly is among the former players accusing Riley.

Former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley, pictured here in 2018, has been accused of sexual coercion by former player Sinead Farrelly.
Former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley, pictured here in 2018, has been accused of sexual coercion by former player Sinead Farrelly.Read moreAndy Mead/ISI Photos

Paul Riley, who coached the Philadelphia Independence during the two years the team existed in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league, was fired Thursday by his current team, the North Carolina Courage, after allegations of sexual misconduct were reported by The Athletic.

In the extensive piece, Havertown native Sinead Farrelly said she felt “claimed” by Riley and that he “coerced her into having sex with him” on more than one occasion.

The union representing professional women soccer players on Thursday demanded an investigation into the allegations against Riley, which included that he groomed, coerced and sexually assaulted Farrelly while she played for the Independence in 2011, as well as sexually abusive actions to others in subsequent years.

Farrelly, who retired in 2019, was coached by Riley with the Independence, New York Fury (2011-12), and Portland Thorns (2014-15).

The Athletic report included interviews of more than a dozen players from each of the five teams Riley had coached since 2010, including former players Farrelly and Mana Shim, who went on the record with various allegations spanning over a decade against the English coach.

In the wake of the report, the United States Soccer Federation announced the immediate suspension of Riley’s coaching license with a statement that read in part, “These are serious allegations and these athletes — and all the players in the NWSL — have our unequivocal support.”

In an email to The Athletic, Riley said the majority of the allegations are “ completely untrue.”

He wrote: “I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players.” He said he sometimes socialized with players and occasionally picked up bar tabs, “but I do not take them out drinking.” He conceded that over the course of his career, “there’s a chance I’ve said something along the way that offended someone,” but he added, “I do not belittle my players, comment on their weight, or discuss their personal relationships.”

The Courage and Thorns, who both employed Riley as head coach, released statements condemning Riley and his alleged behavior.

NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird released a statement via the league’s Twitter account expressing shock at the report, announcing that Riley was fired, and noting that the league is “implementing a new anonymous reporting process, whereby players, team and league staff may text concerns to the league, which will be promptly investigated.”

Baird’s statement notably did not mention any team owners or executives who were involved in the hiring or firing of Riley over the years — nor any of the other abuse scandals the league has faced this year.

Farrelly and Shim both told The Athletic they had contacted the NWSL earlier this year, offering to be interviewed, but were told by Baird that the allegations stemming from incidents that occurred in 2015 while with the Portland Thorns were “investigated to conclusion.” U.S. Women’s national team star Alex Morgan, an NWSL Orlando Pride player, tweeted emails to and from Baird as evidence of Farrelly and Shim’s claims.

Before the NWSL’s statement, the players association released a statement supporting Farrelly, Shim, and Kaiya McCullough, who was part of the Washington Post’s investigation into former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke, and “each of the players who have brought their stories into the light — both known and unknown.” Numerous players have also voiced their support for Farrelly and Shim including Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Christine Sinclair, and former Independence player Lori Lindsey.

The NWSLPA, which is currently in negotiations with the league to form what would be a landmark collective bargaining agreement, also tweeted a list of demands, which read:

“We, as players, demand the following:

  1. NWSL initiate an independent investigation into the allegations published by The Athletic this morning pursuant to the Anti-Harassment policy for a Safe Work Environment by 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.

  2. Any League or Club Staff who are accused of conduct, no matter when it occurred, that violates the current Anti-Harassment Policy for a Safe Work Environment or any mandated reporter who failed to report the alleged reference investigation be suspended immediately, pending the results of the above referenced investigation, and in any event no later than 12:00 p.m. EST on Friday, October 1, 2021.

  3. NWSL disclose how Paul Riley was hired within NWSL after departing from another NWSL Club subsequent to an investigation into abusive conduct during the bargaining session scheduled for Friday, October 1, 2021.”

The NWSLPA concluded by saying: “The NWSL has failed us. We are taking our power back.”

In addition to the sexual coercion allegations from Farrelly, both Farrelly and Shim told The Athletic that Riley also inappropriately touched them, sent them unsolicited lurid pictures, and made inappropriate comments about their weight and sexual orientation.