In a new ESPN documentary, Alex Morgan said she told U.S. Soccer not to hire Paul Riley as U.S. women’s national team head coach in 2019.
Riley was a candidate to replace Jill Ellis at the time after his track record of on-field success as head coach of the North Carolina Courage, and previously with the Portland Thorns.
But a recent ESPN report said the Thorns had fired Riley for cause in 2015 following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. When Portland let Riley go, however, the club did not mention the investigation, which paved the way for him to get another NWSL coaching job with the Western New York Flash, which would eventually move to North Carolina and become the Courage.
An upcoming episode of ESPN’s investigative series E60 titled “Truth Be Told – The Fight For Women’s Professional Soccer,” explores Riley’s case and other recent instances of abuse in women’s soccer.
Morgan played for the Portland Thorns between 2013 and 2015, during which time her teammate Mana Shim confided to her that she had been subject to sexual harassment from Riley.
At the end of the 2015 regular season, Shim sent an email to Thorns ownership and executives as well as NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush informing them about her experiences with Riley.
The allegations against Riley did not become public until 2021, when The Athletic published story including on-record comments from Shim as well as accusations of harassment and coercion from former Thorns player Sinead Farrelly.
When Riley’s name came up for the USWNT job in 2019, Morgan said she did everything she could to stop it, adding that U.S. Soccer told her they were unaware of any accusations against 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.
“The response by U.S. Soccer was no, they had never heard of this misconduct or harassment. Not the report that Mana submitted, not the investigation, and that this was a surprise to them.”
The Athletic article contained a statement from Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, saying he informed the NWSL of the 2015 investigation into Riley. At the time, U.S. Soccer played an active role in running the league.
ESPN reported this month that Paulson told Courage owner Steve Malik in 2019 that Riley should withdraw from consideration from the USWNT job, which would have helped conceal the real reason for his departure from the Thorns.
“Truth Be Told – The Fight For Women’s Professional Soccer” will debut on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, streaming afterward on ESPN+.