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US Soccer report: Ex-Thorns GM blamed abuse victim for Paul Riley’s firing

Paul Riley was fired by the Courage in October 2021 after abuse allegations against him emerged. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After a Portland Thorns player accused then-coach Paul Riley of abuse, then-general manager Gavin Wilkinson blamed the player for Riley’s exit from the team, the U.S. Soccer Federation found in its investigation into coach misconduct in the NWSL.

After Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015 as a result of the allegations, the club kept the reason for his exit under wraps. And when another NWSL team spoke with Wilkinson about hiring Riley, the general manager said he felt Riley “was put in a bad position by the player” and he “would hire him in a heartbeat,” per the U.S. Soccer report.

The Thorns’ front office features prominently in the wide-ranging report on the abuse scandal that shook the NWSL in 2021 and has continued to reverberate through the league.

Thorns player Mana Shim first accused Riley of sexual harassment and coercion in 2015, which led to his dismissal. But her account, corroborated by then-teammate Sinead Farrelly, only became public in October 2021 via a report published in The Athletic.

Because the Thorns kept the claims made against Riley quiet, the coach was able to continue his NWSL coaching career with the Western New York Flash, the franchise that later became the North Carolina Courage — and indeed received a positive recommendation from Wilkinson, who is no longer general manager of the Thorns but remains in that position for the Timbers of MLS, as the new U.S. Soccer report has revealed.

The report also details that Riley’s hiring by the Flash was not met with enthusiasm by the league. Then-NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush, in an email to then-U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, then-U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn and then-NWSL general counsel Lisa Levine, wrote that it was “not good news” that the club would be announcing Riley as head coach.

The NWSL and USSF both refrained from influencing the hiring decision.

Following the hire, Thorns and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson emailed the Flash’s president, wishing them luck on the season and congratulating them on hiring Riley, writing that he has “a lot of affection for him.”

The U.S. Soccer investigation also found that Paulson knew of the alleged abuses by Riley but did not act upon the information. He also knew of other alleged, non-sexual abuses as early as 2014 but did nothing.

This comes after ESPN reported in early September that Paulson discouraged Riley from pursuing the head coaching job for the U.S. women’s national team in 2019. Paulson warned North Carolina’s Steve Malik that Riley should withdraw his name from consideration because he was fired for cause.

Former Thorns player and USWNT star Alex Morgan also spoke out about the former Thorns coach in an upcoming ESPN documentary, saying she warned U.S. Soccer against hiring Riley.

“I did my part in stopping him from becoming head coach,” Morgan said. “And that was sharing as much information as I could with the people who were in charge of selecting the next head coach.”

As a player for the Thorns in 2015, Morgan helped Shim email her complaint about Riley to Paulson, according to The Athletic.

According to the U.S. Soccer report, after “at least fourteen conversations among 11 people at the Federation, the League, the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage, Riley publicly withdrew himself from consideration” for the USWNT job.

Other transgressions from the Thorns front office also are included in the report. One Thorns player recalled Wilkinson jokingly asking her, “Why can’t you just stop being a b—?” Players also remembered Paulson making inappropriate comments, including attempting to talk with a player about former USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo’s nude photographs.

When current U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone was head coach of the Thorns in 2013, she reports that team president of business Mike Golub asked her, “What’s on your bucket list besides sleeping with me?”

Upon her departure from the Thorns seven months later, Cone told Paulson about the incident. According to the report, the owner “told her he wished she had told him about the remark at the time it happened.”

According to the Thorns, as quoted in the U.S. Soccer report, “there was no formal complaint made, and the concerns were addressed with Golub at the time.”

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New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrives in DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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