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Ex-NWSL commissioner did not cooperate with US Soccer investigation

Former NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush currently serves as the CEO of USA Curling. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Lifetime)

Former NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush did not cooperate with the U.S. Soccer investigation into the league, even after telling staff at his new organization that he felt “happy” about the prospect, USA Today reported Monday.

The investigation, led by former U.S. attorney general Sally Yates, exposed abuse and misconduct that went unchecked by NWSL and team leadership.

Plush, now the CEO of USA Curling, told staff at that organization on a phone call last October that he was “enthusiastic about a full investigation.”

“I have absolutely no equivocation whatsoever that I did the right thing,” Plus said. “I know that I did the legal thing, I did the only things I could do by the law. I’m happy to let that come out.”

But the former commissioner “never responded” to outreach from Yates’ investigative team, per the U.S. Soccer report. His cooperation with the ongoing NWSL and NWSL Players Association joint investigation remains unknown.

USA Curling declined to comment on Plush’s phone call last October, spokeswoman Jenna Martin told USA Today, and would comment after “an independent investigation” was completed. The board of the U.S. governing body for curling is reviewing the findings of the U.S. Soccer report.

Plush was commissioner of the NWSL from 2014 until March 2017. He took over as CEO of USA Curling in February 2020.

Thorns player Mana Shim informed Plush directly in 2015 about then-Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley’s sexual advances toward her as well as the retaliation she received when she asked him to stop, per the U.S. Soccer report. Plush forwarded Shim’s email to U.S. Soccer but the league did not take action, per the report, instead leaving the investigation up to the Thorns.

“I opened the investigation hours after getting the claim and seven days later (Riley) was out of a job,” Plush told the USA Curling staff on the phone call last year. “So I’m very confident that I acted properly and appropriately and expeditiously and legally, frankly. But suffice to say, he’s continued to coach, he’s continued to cause harm to people.”

Riley went on to coach for the Western New York Flash, and the commissioner neglected to inform the Flash of Riley’s history. When Courage owner Steve Malik was deciding whether to bring Riley along with the Flash franchise to North Carolina in 2017, he attempted to discern the reason for the coach’s departure from the Thorns.

“Malik’s best recollection was that Plush either demurred that he would look into it or declined to share … in light of confidentiality issues,” per the U.S. Soccer report.

Several other players also alerted NWSL and U.S. Soccer leadership to abuse by coaches, but the complaints often slid under the radar.

“It’s about an ecosystem that doesn’t protect people and which needs to be fixed,” Plush told the USA Curling staff. “Again, I feel pretty confident we did the right things when I was there.”