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Sinead Farrelly returns to NWSL after sparking abuse investigation

(Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Sinead Farrelly is making her return to the NWSL after she helped spark a sea change in the league.

The 33-year-old midfielder is joining NJ/NY Gotham FC for the preseason as a non-roster invitee. She last played for the Portland Thorns in 2015, but in September 2021, six years after playing her last NWSL match, she went public with her experience of sexual abuse by former Thorns coach Paul Riley.

The allegations made by Farrelly and by her former Thorns teammate Mana Shim, published in The Athletic, prompted the firing of Riley by the North Carolina Courage and the opening of wider abuse investigations by the NWSL and its players association as well as U.S. Soccer.

Farrelly had played under Riley on a semi-pro team, in the Women’s Professional Soccer league and then with the Thorns, and the sexual coercion continued with each team, she told The Athletic.

With the Thorns in 2015, Riley took Farrelly and Shim back to his apartment and pressured them to kiss each other as he watched, both players told The Athletic. Shim filed a complaint with the front office after the season, which led the Thorns to fire Riley.

But U.S. Soccer’s report details how the Thorns front office decided to keep the claims made against Riley quiet, which allowed him to continue his coaching career. Then-Thorns GM Gavin Wilkinson even placed blame on Shim for Riley’s exit from the team.

After the 2015 season with the Thorns, Farrelly was traded to the Boston Breakers, but she sat out the 2016 season with injuries sustained in a car crash. She announced her retirement after the 2016 season.

“It took me years away from the game to gain the awareness of how power imbalance works and to be able to tell people close to me what happened,” Farrelly told The Athletic.

Now Farrelly’s return with Gotham FC shows the changing tides of the NWSL in the year since she, Shim and other players called for an end to abuse in the league.