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NWSL whistleblowers return to Portland in ‘full-circle moment’

Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim returned to the NWSL this season with Gotham FC. (Devon Cafaro/NWSL via USA TODAY Sports)

Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly will be back in Portland as players Saturday for the first time since their returns to soccer.

Both are now members of NJ/NY Gotham FC, and their return to the sport, together, has been a full-circle moment in in its own right. But this will be their first time returning to Providence Park since they spoke out on alleged abuses they suffered while playing for the Thorns.

That moment in 2021 forever changed the NWSL, for the better. Shim and Farrelly’s account, published in The Athletic, spurred a reckoning throughout the NWSL, leading to widespread abuse investigations, new leadership and and a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement.

Farrelly, who retired in 2016, and Shim, who retired in 2018, returned to play for Gotham FC in 2023. Also, in addition to playing for Gotham, Shim serves as the chairperson of U.S. Soccer’s Participant Safety Taskforce.

“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.

“I love Portland, and I’ve always loved Portland. It’s a fun thing to go in there and play when you’re not the home team, and I look forward to that, because I haven’t done it yet. Overall, I think it’s just going to be an exciting, full-circle moment.”

For her part, Farrelly has also fallen in love with the game again. And she got to feature for the Republic of Ireland this year for the first time, including at her first World Cup.

Admittedly, Farrelly is glad the game is coming at the time it has, because it would have been “a lot to handle” earlier in the season. Now, she’s excited to go back. Both Shim and Farrelly say they feel supported by their Gotham teammates, and that means everything.

“To have that safety has been really important for me personally,” Farrelly said. “Just being back in this culture. There have been times in my career where it’s been really difficult, and Mana gets it.

“We have that comfort level but we have also just been having so much fun, reminding each other what a gift and a privilege it is that we get to training together and play soccer every day. That has been really healing, finding the joy in playing the game again and being on a team again.”

Both are thankful for the Thorns’ fanbase, which has been supportive of the two players since day one. And, at the end of the day, while a win on Saturday is important – as it would put Gotham ahead of Portland in the league standings – there’s also one important thing still left to do in Portland.

“I feel like we’ve done a lot of work and there is so much to be celebrated,” Shim said, then paused. “Our priorities are pretty obvious, but at the end of the day, like, sell the Thorns. We’re not there yet. There’s still one piece of the thing. I’m really grateful for all the progress we’ve made, but we’re still following along. Our work isn’t over, and when we’re done playing our work won’t be over. It’s something that we always have to remember.”