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NWSL whistleblowers complete triumphant return with Gotham FC

Gotham FC midfielder Mana Shim takes a moment to herself after the 2023 NWSL Championship at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. (Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC’s first NWSL Championship victory was sweet. The squad engineered a complete turnaround from last season, going from worst to first to put an exclamation point on captain Ali Krieger’s career.

Two other Gotham players also received a fairytale ending to the season: NWSL whistleblowers Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly.

In late 2021, Shim and Farrelly exposed a longstanding culture of sexual coercion under their former head coach Paul Riley. Their stories of abuse led to widespread investigations and sweeping changes across the league, including changes in leadership and a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement.

“I never really imagined that I’d have this full-circle moment and opportunity to go back as a player, and definitely not as a teammate of Sinead’s again,” Shim told The Oregonian. “I think we are both excited and this feels like a gift we are experiencing, being together again.”

Both Shim and Farrelly had retired from soccer after suffering from Riley’s mistreatment with the Portland Thorns and from injuries. But they both returned to play for Gotham together this season — and their joint comeback ended in triumph.

“I think it’s this full-circle moment of reclaiming back what we felt like we lost and the difficulties and things we’ve been through in the past with [Portland] particularly, but also just with this league,” Farrelly told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Before the championship match began, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman weighed in on the importance of Shim and Farrelly’s participation in the game.

“For me, personally, I’m so proud to see Mana and Sinead competing on the pitch tonight. I’m just so proud that we have created an environment that they feel safe and supported,” Berman said.

Along with achieving their dream of winning a title with Gotham FC, Shim and Farrelly were able to make the NWSL a safer place for players in the process.

“It’s just been a dream,” Farrelly told The Inquirer. “I haven’t even had time to process, but it just keeps being the best-case scenario that I could have ever dreamed of — that I didn’t even think was possible. So it’s just incredible.”