The Week In Womens Football: The NWSL Coaching Scandal And Its Impact On The League

This week we examine the Paul Riley/Washington Spirit/NWSL/Lisa Baird/etc. player harassment (and worse) situation and fallout, focusing on the drastic changes that should drive remedies to the structures and culture in the league and teams that have allowed this reprehensible behavior to continue for years, and that has already resulted in games being postponed, the league's Commissioner and Legal Counsel leaving their jobs, Paul Riley listing his $2 Million house on Long Island for sale, among other impacts; while I present my thoughts on what is next.

NWSL Fallout from the Allegations of Paul Riley's Sexual and Emotional Abuse of NWSL and Other Leagues' Players

The women's professional soccer world was rocked on the morning of September 30 when The Athletic's Meg Linehan wrote a lengthy piece about serious allegations of horribly inappropriate behavior by N.C. Courage head coach Paul Riley on his teams for years—including unwanted sexual relations, sexual coercion and verbal abuse. Riley was fired within a few hours and U.S. Soccer rescinded his professional coaching license (See: 'This guy has a pattern': Amid institutional failure, former NWSL players accuse prominent coach of sexual coercion – The Athletic). See also my column from last week on the background of this situation and immediate actions from a breaking news perspective: The Week in Women's Football: Kristina Maksuti interview; Paul Riley fired; Indoor Pro Soccer; - Tribal Football).

At a men's minor league professional game two days after Meg Linehan's article ran, I saw a long-time friend who has been involved in professional soccer development for years. She said that the problem is that the system of promoting and protecting coaches with a history of abuse (many times covered up by those in power) needs to be changed—particularly in women's football—and will take some time. She felt that rather than new organizations starting with fundraising and marketing, then proceeding to squad building and finally adding Human Resources and reporting functions (usually on the cheap) in order to adequately protect players and staff, they must start with these approaches and procedures immediately upon the team's or league's launch, essentially flipping the pyramid.

Some have thought that a solution would be to just have women coaches in the NWSL and essentially ban male coaches. There was only one female coach in the NWSL at the beginning of the year for the ten teams (Freya Coombe who was at NJ/NY Gotham FC at the time) but it is now up to four—OL Reign bringing back Laura Harvey from the U.S. U-20 national team, expansion San Diego side hiring England's Casey Stoney, Coombe moving to expansion side Angel FC this summer from Gotham FC, and long-time college coach Becky Burleigh replacing Marc Skinner (now Manchester United) in Orlando for the 12 teams for 2022. The basket case organization that is the Washington Spirit could have replaced abusive Richie Burke and one of his assistants—who was also released this summer over inappropriate comments (see below)—with a women in one or both positions, but appointed Burke's assistant coach Kris Ward as the interim head coach and then brought on former U.S. international Lee Nguyen as an assistant coach last week. Nguyen played professionally in the Netherlands, Denmark, Vietnam and Major League Soccer for almost a decade and is best known for his time with the New England Revolution. I saw him play on multiple occasions and he was an outstanding forward and is a class person. Nguyen (35) is studying for his U.S. Soccer 'B' License (which is the level that Ward possesses) and has a fine reputation. It just begs the question—with a franchise in such turmoil and engaged in a nasty battle internally for ownership control—could they not have sent a better message that they are trying to change the culture of their women's professional team and bring in one or more women coaches to build credibility with their players and fan base? The other end of the women-only coaches argument is that the idea of only hiring women coaches could be perceived as reverse discrimination and eliminates the possibility of utilizing some very good male coaches in the league (Rory Daimes in Chicago and James Clarkson in Houston are stellar examples who come immediately to mind). Hiring only women coaches would be a short term solution anyway and women coaches and executives have caused problems with mistreatment of women players in some clubs in Europe in particular, so it is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed within the game and is not necessarily a problem driven by one gender. NWSLPA President and Kansas City and Scottish international defender Rachel Corsie has recently said that these issues are not just found in the NWSL and even emerge in other sports as well. We will also table the discussion of federation officials in certain countries who have preyed on women's players (including Afghanistan, Haiti, and other nations) for the present time, but it just indicates how global this situation is. The extent of the revelations with the length and extent of the abuse of Riley's players—two in particular for years—will allow all soccer organizations to see the importance of building in compliance and reporting structures and a culture that begins with protecting players. It is an opportunity for the NWSL to set standards that could be effective in the game internationally and with other sports.

Former WPS (2009-2011) founder and commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who this author had talked to frequently in the WPS years as well as prior to launch, when she was developing the league after the demise of the WUSA in 2003, said about the scandal. "The thing that is so hard for these women [professional players] is they are fighting tooth and nail just to make a living, and a lot of these clubs are not funded in the way men's organizations are funded. You don't have the robust H.R. departments and systems and accountability, but it should be there." We will touch on the player livable wage issue more below.

Two clubs came under a lot of scrutiny when Linehan broke the Riley story—the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage—who have been among the top clubs in the league for their success on the field and fan attendance for years, with the two clubs winning five league titles between them in seven seasons in which the playoffs were held after the regular season (2013-2019). Portland was on the back foot with the revelations, as Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly both played for Riley there in his two-year tenure with the Thorns (2014-2015). When a complaint were filed by Shim at the end of the season, Riley was let go, but the word out of the street was that it was because the team didn't make the playoffs in 2015—a season overshadowed by the Women's World Cup in Canada and for which the Thorns has almost a full starting 11 away at games or injured that summer. Indeed he was actually terminated because of the sexual abuse and harassment charges from the players, but ended up a few months later coaching in Western New York (Buffalo/Rochester) with the Flash. Ironically, the Flash made the NWSL Championship Game in 2016 in Riley's first season against all odds by finishing fourth and only two points ahead of the Seattle Reign—who had made the Finals the two previous seasons—before knocking out the Thorns in the semifinals at home (4-3 in extra time) in a stirring match, though Riley was red-carded during the game; the home loss must have been particularly galling to Thorns management. The Flash won the league title the next week by defeating the Washington Spirit on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie over 120 minutes, a game this reporter covered and that was one of the best Finals ever in women's professional soccer in the U.S.

The Flash moved to North Carolina in 2017 and became arguably the dominate team in the league. They won three regular-season and two postseason titles as the Courage in Riley's first three years in North Carolina (2018 and 2019) and lost the 2017 final in Orlando to Portland on a single goal. (See more on the Courage owner's statement below.)

Everyone from FIFA, U.S. Soccer, the NWSL, the NWSLPA and individual teams put out statements on Thursday September 30—the day the Meg Linehan story broke (which I think is Pulitzer worthy), on Friday October 1 or over the weekend, when all five NWSL games were postponed. The most telling release came from the Thorns [and MLSPortland Timbers owner] Merritt Paulson, first when trying to explain what happened in 2015 and then presenting eight action steps:

"As a team, an organization and as individuals, we at the Portland Thorns have zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination of any kind. Within hours of receiving a complaint against our then coach six years ago from Mana [Shim]—the first and only we have ever received from anyone—we: (1) placed Coach Riley on immediate suspension; (2) conducted an investigation of the claims that, within a matter of days, led to his termination; and (3) shared everything we learned in the investigation with the NWSL.

But we then made an opaque announcement about not renewing Riley's contract as opposed to explicitly announcing his termination, guided by what we, at the time, thought was the right thing to do out of respect for player privacy. I deeply regret our role in what is clearly a systemic failure across women's professional soccer.

Let me be unequivocal in saying that I as team owner and we as an organization disavow the culture of silence that may have allowed for additional victimization by a predatory coach, whose actions we forcefully condemn.

Ultimately, we could have done more, which is particularly hard to say as the team that we have held as the highest standard in women's professional soccer in the world. I apologize to Mana, Sinead [Farrelly] and everyone else who is hurting as a result. I welcome the investigations that will be forthcoming. I welcome this moment for positive change in both our own organization and the NWSL, and fully intend to help drive it. It should have come sooner, but come it must.

What are we, as an organization, doing now?

1. We are creating opportunities for safe and open dialogue with our players and staff, and have made supplemental crisis, mental health and wellness resources available to them.

2. We are in the process of adopting a confidential and anonymous reporting system for allegations of harassment and discrimination involving our organization. This function should be in place and available by week's end.

3. We renew our commitment to the NWSL's anti-harassment policy, including its anti-retaliation provisions, which our head of HR and General Counsel were trained on this past spring.

4. We will continue SafeSport training, which all Thorns players, Thorns staff and youth academy staff completed this year. We fully embrace the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and share its commitment to prevent the emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse of athletes—in our stadium and throughout the sport.

5. We are creating a form on our website to enable our fans and community to provide anonymized feedback and input as we go through this transformative process.

6. We are evaluating our own organizational plan for the Portland Thorns. Our north star is what is best for the players and technical staff.

7. We have retained new outside lawyers, including a female former federal prosecutor, to conduct a comprehensive and deliberate independent investigation of our original 2015 investigation. Whatever findings result from this review, I commit to you, we will make public in summary form. We will be equally transparent with whatever corrective actions we take in response to the investigative findings.

8. Similarly, we welcome and will fully cooperate with the related investigations by FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and look forward to the much needed light they will shine on the facts as they emerge in due course over the investigative process."

It was only a day later, on October 6, when Thorns President and General Manager Gavin Wilkinson was suspended from his Thorns duties (a result I fully expected) and their announcement stated simply:

"Effectively immediately, Portland Thorns FC have placed general manager/president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson on administrative leave from Thorns duties pending the results of the outside independent investigation, which is ongoing."

What the press release did not clearly state was that Wilkinson was suspended from his role with the Thorns but he actively retained his Presidency and General Manager positions with the Major League Soccer Timbers until the investigation was finished, though that was extremely shortsighted by the club and it shouldn't be long before he is out entirely—particularly since the Timbers/Thorns Fan Groups (Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters, respectively) have said they will boycott the clubs' concessions and merchandise sales during games until he is gone. They also demanded the hiring of separate general managers for the two teams, a new diversity officer position and club culture and player liaison—all important recommendations.

Gavin Wilkinson, a native of New Zealand, was capped over 30 times by the Kiwis, playing at home, in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ireland before joining the minor league Timbers in 2001; he had been a player, coach and executive for Portland Timbers ever since, taking on the Thorns role when they entered the league in 2013. Maybe investigators should ask the question of why Riley was allowed to leave the Thorns and then join the Western New York Flash a few months later—where Aaron Lines (who previously was the Flash's women's head coach in the WPS and W-League) was General Manager and also a former New Zealand international and minor league player in the U.S.—playing alongside Wilkinson with the USL Timbers in 2005. Perhaps there was a New Zealand mafia operating in American professional women's soccer at the time (albeit a small one in numbers). Or was a favor being done for the Timbers/Thorns organization by the Flash or even for Riley? Certainly the Flash, looking to win a league title after three crowns in three previous leagues—the USL W League, WPS and WPSL Elite from 2010-2012, but who had been fairly average in the NWSL under Lines in 2014 and 2015 while missing the playoffs both seasons, after losing the 2013 League Final 2-0 to the Thorns in Rochester—was swayed by the influence that Riley held on American women's soccer, as he was known to be one of the leading coaches at the youth level and then professionally; his name even subsequently came up on occasion with women's national team positions in the U.S. and England. Riley was economically quite well off from running youth soccer organizations and camps, living in "what has been described as a mansion on Long Island New York," which is now up for sale according to reports, with a list price of almost $2 Million.

On the players' side, the NWSLPA—which has been in the midst of negotiations for a first Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league—first demanded that the five league games over the October 1-3 weekend be postponed—though at first it sounded like the initiative came from the league in their releases, which was absolutely not the case. Then the Players Association issued the following statement ahead of the three league matches on October 6—focusing on expanding the Riley investigation to include all twelve league franchise—and finally held a silent protest during each match that evening after six minutes of play, which was significant because it was the number of years between the initial investigation of Riley after the 2015 season when Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim first told Timbers officials their stories of what they suffered under him [though he actually had preyed on Farrelly beginning with their time together with the Philadelphia Independence in the old WPS, which folded after the 2011 campaign:

NWSL PA statement on October 6, 2021

"Tonight, we reclaim our place on the field, because we will not let our joy be taken from us. But this is not business as usual.

Teams will stop play in each of tonight's games at the 6th minute. Players will join together in solidarity at the center circle for one minute in honor of the 6 years it took for Mana (Shim], Sinead [Farrelly], and all those who fought for too long to be heard. We call on fans to stand in silence with us. During that time, we ask you to stand in that pain and discomfort with us, as we consider what we have been asked to sit with for too long.

We call on you to consider, in that minute, what is demanded of each of us to reclaim our league and our sport.

Following the game, the media are advised that players will refuse to answer any questions that do not relate to abuse and systemic change in NWSL.

Systemic transformation is not something you say. It is something you do. We, as players, demand the following:

1. Every coach, General Manager, representative on the Board of Governors, and owner voluntarily submit to the Players Association's independent investigation into abusive conduct. They may notify Executive Director Meghann Burke of their agreement with this demand by the close of business on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

2. The scope of NWSL's investigation announced on Sunday evening, October 4, 2021, be expanded to include an investigation of each of the twelve NWSL clubs represented on the Board of Governors to determine whether any abuse, whether presently known or unknown, has occurred at any point in time.

3. The scope of NWSL's investigation further be expanded to determine whether any League Office staff, NWSL Club, or person in a position of power within NWSL neglected to investigate concerns of abuse raised by any player or employee at any point in time.

4. NWSL adopt an immediate "Step Back Protocol" whereby any person in a position of power (e.g. owner, representative on the Board of Governors, General Manager, or Management Supervisor) at the time that a Club either hired or separated from employment a coach who was, is, or will be under investigation for abuse be suspended from any governance or oversight role within NWSL pending the conclusion of an independent investigation, effectively immediately. For any Club that took swift action to protect players upon the discovery of facts that were not previously known to the Club, the immediate disclosure to the Players Association of the circumstances and the policies or practices implemented to prevent the same from happening again may be grounds to restore that person to their position quickly, with the Players Association's agreement.

5. NWSL immediately agree to disclose all investigative reports referenced in its statement of October 3, 2021.

6. NWSL immediately agree to disclose to the Players Association any and all findings, conclusions, and reports are obtained pursuant to their statement of October 3, 2021, including but not limited to the reopening of the 2015 Paul Riley investigation.

7. NWSL agrees to cooperate with the Players Association's own independent investigation by a written email to Executive Director Meghann Burke by the close of business on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

8. NWSL agrees that representatives of the Players Association have an opportunity to meet with potential Commissioner candidates and have a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the selection of the next Commissioner.

The reckoning has already begun. We will not be silent. We will be relentless in our pursuit of a league that deserves the players in it.


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The Washington Spirit (white uniforms) and NJ/NY Gotham FC (dark uniforms) players gather in an act of solidarity during the sixth minute of the match on October 6, 2021 in Chester, PA to observe a moment of silence to call attention to the systemic abuse of players by Paul Riley and others in the league. (Photo credit: NJ/NY Gotham FC).

The other club in the line of fire—the North Carolina Courage—which had retained Riley after the franchise moved from Rochester/Buffalo following the 2016 season—released a statement from team owner Steve Malik [the club has had a men's professional team for years in the North American Soccer League and USL Division 2 leagues and is currently in the USL League 1 or third division]:

"Following this past week's appalling revelations, we as a club have taken the past few days to focus internally on supporting our players and staff as we move forward as a unified group. As we continue to process difficult emotions, let me begin by saying that I am deeply sorry for our part in the failure to create an environment where players feel safe and comfortable coming forward. As soon as we were aware of the serious allegations against Mr. Riley, we immediately terminated his employment. There is no place for that behavior and abuse in our sport and society. Firing Mr. Riley was the first step, and we continue to reflect on how we could have been better.

In efforts to create a safer space for our players and staff, we have provided mental health resources, including a trauma psychologist available for our players and staff. We fully support the three new investigations by NWSL, USSF and FIFA. We support a third-party expert approach to examining how we can all get better. We are continuing to collaborate with players and staff to discuss and create action plans to further ensure that an open and respectful environment exists in all areas of the club. We are committed to learning from the past and growing together towards a better future.

Following the news of last week, many of you were left with a key question—what did we know?

When we bought the Western NY Flash in 2017, we conducted due diligence to continue with Mr. Riley and the coaching staff. We were made aware of an investigation into Mr. Riley's behavior in 2015 and were subsequently assured that he was in good standing. During his employment with the Courage, we had no knowledge of allegations of sexual harassment or coercion. When we learned of the horrific allegations in last week's reporting, we took those seriously and immediately terminated Mr. Riley.

To Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and all players who have come forward in sharing your stories, you have shown us what true courage is. Your actions have sparked this vital need for positive, systemic change, and I commend you for your strength in doing so. Such abuse has no place in our society or in our sport, and it will never be tolerated by the North Carolina Courage organization. Our primary responsibility, and our top priority, is the safety, security, and respectful treatment of our players, without exception. Our commitment to this promise is unconditional.

Professional women's soccer is profoundly influential among girls and young women everywhere. It is incumbent on us to set a standard of conduct that earns their trust. Soccer demands and deserves a culture of mutual respect, free of sexual harassment, intimidation, and predatory coercion of any kind.

We stand in support of our players taking their power back as they return to the field tonight."

Early panicky statements by some that the NWSL wouldn't or shouldn't survive this scandal are unfounded. The league won't end because in part it has a solid base of eight-plus years, but it will be much better and different league on the other side of this scandal; it will be a long, hard road to get there but so worth it in the end. It's better to fix what we have than to blow it up and start over for a sport that has struggled on the professional side in the States for over 20 years. The Riley reports were the final detonation for the explosion but the league has been dealing with similar issues with coaches, team administrators and owners for over a year, including a number of head coach/executive/owner dismissals:

  • Last year, Utah Royals owners Dell Loy Hansen was forced out by the NWSL and MLS (Real Salt Lake) after he made insensitive statements of a racial nature and then the team was charged with fostering a hostile workplace for women. The team moved to its original home of Kansas City for the 2021 season and their head coach Craig Harrington last season was released after nine months after uttering sexist remarks—he now leads Club America women in Mexico's top league and the Aguilas are tied for fourth in the 2021-22 Apertura (Opening) Championships on a 7-3-1 (W-D-L) record for 24 points and should make the playoffs later this year. Why is he still coaching women anywhere?
  • OL Reign dismissed French head coach Farid Benstiti early this regular season after he made a number of inappropriate comments about players' weight, which only came out after the Riley story, since he was allowed to resign. He was hired originally despite the fact that now Portland Thorns player Lindsey Horan said that Benstiti had ridiculed her body when she played for him at Paris St. Germain. He was a terrible choice as a head coach from day one for so many reasons to replace Vlatko Andonovski, who took over the U.S. National Team at the end of 2019. My media calls with him were close to useless because of his lack of English language skills and general inability to focus and I just stopped doing them after a while.
  • This past July, NJ/NY Gotham FC fired General Manager Alyse LaHue for violating the league's anti-harassment policy.
  • In August, Racing Louisville suddenly fired head coach and Northern Ireland native Christy Holly for cause, the details of which have not been released, but seem to correlate to player treatment.
  • The Washington Spirit jettisoned an assistant coach this summer after he made inappropriate comments to players at an off-site event and then head coach Richie Burke was sent into touch after abusive, sexist and racist comments to players were disclosed in a Washington Post story this summer. Of course, it was common knowledge that youth players and parents had complained about his less than welcoming coaching when he first joined the Spirit ahead of the 2019 season, but their concerns were evidently ignored. The Spirit seemingly hit the nadir of the season for NWSL embarrassment until Linehan's article on Riley's behavior trumped everything. The Spirit has spiraled into such a train wreck. They no longer have any decision making on league affairs as the owners do battle for control. The Spirit shares are essentially split equally between Steve Baldwin (whose daughter Carlyn has played professionally in Portugal), Bill Lynch and Michele Kang, the latter who is supported by most of the players. Baldwin offered to sell his shares to Kang last week, with Lynch reportedly following along—but Baldwin withdrew his overpriced $22 Million offer—which to her credit Kang agreed to pay. Now apparently Baldwin is trying to shop the team around as sponsors fly off the floundering ship, including Sandy Spring Bank, with CVS Pharmacies considering doing the same. Baldwin had earlier wanted to sell his stake for $30 Million—three times the valuation when the club brought in more smaller investors this year, including NHL Washington Capitals ice hockey legend Alex Ovechkin (see: The Week in Women's Football: Challenge Cup review; San Diego replaces Sacramento; Ovechkin joins Spirit ownership - Tribal Football). There is reported interest from an out-of-town group that could see the Spirit leave the D.C. area. The club has lost an estimated US$3-US$4 Million this year and this year financially is still impacted by COVID. Most NWSL clubs usually are running annual deficits of between $1 Million and $2 Million. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted league gates across the league in 2020 and 2021, but the turmoil on the Spirit hasn't helped their bottom line, with lawyer bills continuing to add up.

All of the above terminated individuals have denied the allegations except Farid; he may have but I haven't found any statements in English and likely no one would understand them if he had.

A related problem that the NWSLPA must continue to prioritize along with radical changes in players' working in safe spaces are salaries and benefits, with the league minimum salary at $22,000 in 2021 while the maximum player salary is $52,500, a 10% and 5% increase, respectively, from the 2020 season. The NWSL leadership contends that 4% of its players earn less than $30,000, down from 73% in 2019. However, the NWSLPA estimates that number to be a full third of their members earning the league's minimum salary and about 75% making $31,000 or less. On this one, we have to defer to the NWSLPA's numbers and this must be addressed by the league in their CBA discussions with players, as well as free agency and protecting player welfare and safety.

This column has written about the low pay issue for years as a key contributor to the short professional career of women players, competing against monetary, education, occupation or family pressures. The Players Association has recently been publicizing the side jobs that players have had to hold while playing professionally, from working as domestics as homes, to working at Amazon as a box line packer (see: Home - #NoMoreSideHustles for Professional Athletes). In 2015, when goalkeeper Caroline Stanley left the University of Southern California early to play professionally for Seattle Reign FC, she was forced to rely primarily on her scholarship stipend from college to make ends meet because she had no salary at all for a while as a third goalkeeper.. She told CNBC that, "I know for a fact I wasn't making close to $10,000 because I didn't have to pay taxes. I obviously reported everything and it's like, 'Oh, you're not making any money.'" Stanley, who played for Seattle, Sky Blue FC in New Jersey and Orlando during her three years in the league, says her salary was so low that she had to work odd jobs as a babysitter and youth soccer coach while playing the sport professionally. She also lived with a host family for part of her career because she couldn't afford an apartment on her own, adding that, "That was very common for NWSL players to live with host families. I think that's gotten a little better because a lot of teams now provide apartments, but when I was in the league I was not provided an apartment."

Jessica McDonald, a player for the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL, shared that as a player she's "worked at Amazon packing boxes during 10 hour days" while also raising her son. Kat Williamson, a former defender for the Thorns, said she has "cleaned homes for extra money and worked at a dental office as a receptionist."

While Meghann Burke [now the NWSLPA Executive Director and a former player in the WPS and with Bristol Rovers in England] said that the goal is to reach an agreement where players don't have to work multiple jobs to make a living. This doesn't just affect the bottom half of NWSL rosters, who are mostly young Americans just out of college. This reporter interviewed on multiple occasions one international player with national team experience for her country and she was told to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa and then play for a NWSL team—essentially illegally—with the less than reassuring line from the head coach that, "the club would work it out." This would have saved the club some time and money on visa applications but was not in the best interest of the player. Living conditions were left TBD as well, including the idea of her staying with a family who were natives of her country. All of this was for a national team player from Asia who has played abroad in multiple countries and was not willing to "fly at night and trust the coach or the club when it is my career we are talking about." The head coach and team involved was actually one in the list above and the coach was terminated this season. This wasn't in 2013 or 2014—this happened just ahead of the 2019 season.

The players are united in changing the way that soccer organizations—particularly the NWSL—have operated for years and cleansing them of abusive and even predatory individuals who have been allowed to thrive and move about without recrimination. All of us involved in the women's game must ensure that these unfortunate incidents which have dominated the league news in 2020 and 2021 never occur again.

On a more positive note, the NWSL, NWSLPA and U.S. Soccer have partnered to hold free U.S. Soccer 'B' License Coaching Courses for 24 current and former NWSL players. This year marks the third time that U.S. Soccer and the NWSL have partnered to provide cost-free coaching education courses. A press release explained that, "U.S. Soccer has previously offered two 'C' License courses to NWSL players, funded by generous donors. This will be the U.S. Soccer's first all-women B License course and provides another important educational opportunity for professional female players. Since the NWSL coaching course initiative began in 2018, more than 25 players have received cost-free coaching education. Tailored to accommodate athletes' schedules, the 20-week program consists of both virtual educational experiences and in-person meetings, led by U.S. Soccer National Coaching Instructor Heather Dyche (the current women's head coach at the University of New Mexico) and U.S. Soccer Coach Educator Karla Thompson."

"The 24 candidates will also be invited to participate in a modified SheChampions Mentorship Program. U.S. Soccer's SheChampions Coaching Mentorship Program, presented by Volkswagen, provides hands-on mentorship and guidance for women participating in Pro, 'A' and 'B' License courses. The NWSL players and former players will be organized into mentorship groups to guide them on their coaching journeys."

"The 20 active NWSL players and four alumni participating in this year's program are listed below. Players with an asterisk have been capped by the U.S. Women's National Team and players in italics are retired from the NWSL:"

Chinyelu Asher – Washington Spirit/Jamaica national team

Toni Pressley – Orlando Pride

Rylee Baisden – NC Courage

Cambria Privett – Houston Dash

Lauren Barnes – OL Reign

Samantha Prudhomme - Reign FC

Nicole Barnhart – Unattached* (recently retired in her ninth season with FC Kansas City/Utah Royals/Kansas City NWSL)

Maegan Rosa – Houston Dash

Celeste Boureille – Portland Thorns FC

Angela Salem – Portland Thorns FC

Kendall Fletcher – NC Courage*

Amy Rodriguez – Kansas City NWSL/North Carolina Courage*

Darian Jenkins – Kansas City NWSL

Abby Smith – Kansas City NWSL

Ali Krieger – Orlando Pride*

Crystal Thomas – Orlando Pride

Gina Lewandowski – NJ/NY Gotham FC*

Michele Vasconcelos – Kansas City NWSL

Becca Moros – Utah Royals FC—(she started the season as an assistant coach with

NJ/NY Gotham FC and is now in her first season as head coach at the University of Arizona in Tucson)

Mallory Weber – Kansas City NWSL

Meg Morris – Portland Thorns FC

Beverly Yanez – Reign FC—now the assistant coach with the NJ/NY Gotham FC

Christine Nairn – Houston Dash*

McCall Zerboni – NJ/NY Gotham FC*

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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