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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Brown

A Timeline of the Continued Wave of Abusive Women's Soccer Coaches in the U.S.

Amid the ninth investigation into an NWSL coach’s behavior since 2020, it is becoming more evident that there are deep-rooted coaching issues within women’s soccer in the United States. The Orlando Pride placed Head Coach Amanda Cromwell on temporary leave Tuesday regarding information found in an ongoing investigation that began in October 2021. Eight other NWSL coaches have resigned or been fired for non-soccer-related causes in a span of fewer than two years.


Here is a timeline displaying when each coach left.

A Timeline of the Continued Wave of Abusive Women's Soccer Coaches in the U.S.

November 9, 2020


Craig Harrington of the Utah Royals was placed on leave in September 2020 and then fired in November 2020 due to his perpetuation of poor culture within the club. This occurred following the firing of owner Dell Loy Hansen, who was exposed for holding racist and sexist views and allowing for a toxic work environment to harvest. Harrington was later said to have treated his coworkers poorly and occasionally make inappropriate sexual comments.


July 2, 2021


Head coach of OL reign, Farid Benstiti, resigned and was initially thought to have left under positive circumstances. However, later reports revealed allegations of verbal abuse by Benstiti. An OL Reign player told CEO Bill Predmore about an incident where Benstiti made comments about her nutrition and fitness. Predmore then recommended that Benstiti resign after he investigated the incident and had conversations with other players about their coach’s behavior.


Lindsey Horan, who played under Benstiti at Paris Saint-Germain from 2012 to 2016, later shared on the Butterfly Road Podcast that she was told her body fat was too high to play, and that at one point, Benstiti took a chocolate bar away from a teammate sitting near her so as not to “tempt her.” It unfortunately was no surprise that Benstiti’s inappropriate comments continued to his time at OL Reign.


July 9, 2021


Alyse LaHue was fired from her position as general manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC, which didn’t become public knowledge until July 16, 2021. The only information provided about her firing was that it was due to a violation of the NWSL’s anti-harassment policy. Gotham released a statement regarding the matter:


“Following a complaint, the league conducted an investigation and shared the findings of that investigation with Gotham FC. Those findings will remain confidential and the league will not comment further on individual club personnel matters.”


LaHue denied the allegations, yet never specified what she was accused of.


August 10, 2021


Multiple players from the Washington Spirit disclosed their experience of being verbally and emotionally abused by Head Coach Richie Burke, leading to him being reassigned from his position to a front desk job with the club. Former NWSL player Kaiya McCullough shared that Burke made her hate soccer due to his volatile personality and explosive abuse toward her and other players. McCullough also revealed that Burke made racist comments and used racist language in front of players.


The story exemplified the lack of protection there was for players who are experiencing abuse. The NWSL didn’t create an anti-harassment policy until 2021, and players had little understanding of what to do if they needed to report an incident. After launching their own investigation, the NWSL officially fired Richie Burke "for chause" and stated that he "cannot work with any NWSL players" in an official statement.


August 31, 2021


Christy Holly was fired as Racing Louisville’s head coach “for cause.” The club did not provide reasoning for the decision, and Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos shared that players supported keeping that information private. Holly’s hiring in 2020 did spark negative feedback—fans questioned the decision to hire another male coach for a female league. Holly has also come under fire for his relationship with one of his former players at Sky Blue FC, Christie Rampone.


September 30, 2021


Perhaps the most disturbing story behind the firing of a coach is that of NC Courage’s Paul Riley. Two of Riley’s former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, reported being groomed and sexually coerced by the coach. Multiple teammates came forward in support of the pair, and the NWSLPA immediately commanded an investigation into Riley.


One of the greatest concerns resulting from Farrelly and Shim’s stories was how a 2015 report of Riley’s misconduct was quickly glanced over. Riley left the Portland Thorns and became head coach of the Western New York Flash essentially untouched, showing how his behavior was allowed to continue because of systemic issues within the NWSL.


November 22, 2021


Just a day after the Chicago Red Stars lost the 2021 NWSL Championship, Head Coach Rory Dames resigned. Then, the Washington Post published an article describing his emotional abuse toward CRS players as well as athletes he coached at Eclipse Select soccer club. U.S. national team player Christen Press was the first to come forward about Dames in 2014 during a meeting with the former President of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati. Other players raised their concerns in 2018.


Dames was accused of making racist and sexist remarks as well as berating players and their performances. But in February, one of Dames’s former youth players came forward and shared her story of sexual misconduct by Dames. A 1998 police report about his abuse was obtained for the story, where his history of sexually coercing and physically assaulting players was described.


April 27, 2022


The Houston Dash suspended head coach and general manager James Clarkson while the NWSL conducts an investigation into abuse. No details were given except that the suspension was recommended by the NWSL because of the ongoing abuse and harassment issues within the league.



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