The North Carolina Courage fired head coach Paul Riley on Thursday as fresh allegations of sexual misconduct swept across the top professional women’s soccer league in the United States.
North Carolina, part of the National Women’s Soccer League, said in a statement Riley had been dismissed with immediate effect following “very serious allegations of misconduct.”
Riley’s dismissal came after The Athletic website earlier Thursday detailed wide-ranging sexual misconduct by the 58-year-old Englishman spanning multiple teams and leagues since 2010.
He is the second NWSL coach to be dismissed this week after the league terminated Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke’s contract following an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse.
The Athletic reported that two players, Sinead Farrelly and Meleana “Mana” Shim, had made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Riley.
Farrelly, who played for Riley at three different teams in different leagues, accused the coach of “sexual coercion” while he was her coach at the Philadelphia Independence.
She said she had been coerced into having sex with the coach after going to his hotel room following defeat in the Women’s Professional Soccer League final in 2011. Riley told her “we’re taking this to our graves” after the incident.
In another incident during his reign at the Portland Thorns NWSL team, Farrelly and Shim said Riley forced them to kiss each other while at his apartment.
“This guy has a pattern,” Shim told The Athletic.
US international and Portland team-mate Alex Morgan, who played under Riley at the same time, confirmed the players’ allegations and said she had tried to help them file a report with the league.
“I am sickened and have too many thoughts to share at this moment,” Morgan wrote in a tweet of support on Thursday.
“Bottom line: protect your players. Do the right thing NWSL.”
In a statement to The Athletic, Riley denied wrongdoing, describing the allegations as “completely untrue.”
“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he told the website.
The Courage meanwhile hailed players for “bravely sharing their stories.”
“The North Carolina Football Club is united together in our commitment to creating a safe, positive and respectful environment, not only within our club but across the league and our great sport,” the club said.
The league’s player’s union, the NWSLPA said in a tweet that “systemic abuse” was “plaguing the NWSL.”
“Words cannot adequately capture our anger, pain, sadness and disappointment,” the NWSLPA said.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said the league was “shocked and disgusted” by the revelations in the Athletic and said the league was implementing a new anonymous reporting process for players, team and league staff to raise concerns.
“We ask our players and all associated with the league to raise their concerns to us, as we continue to make our league a safe, positive and respectful environment,” Baird said.