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Player at center of women’s pro soccer scandal says accused coach was ‘a predator’

Former NWSL players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim and Team USA star Alex Morgan spoke to Savannah Guthrie about the accusations against ex-coach Paul Riley and the league's failure to protect its players.

Meleana “Mana” Shim called her former Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley "a predator" in an exclusive interview on TODAY Tuesday, as the fallout continues in the National Women's Soccer League following Riley's firing amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

Riley was fired from the North Carolina Courage last week after four years with the team following a report in The Athletic in which Shim and former player Sinead Farrelly accused him of sexual coercion and verbal abuse during his coaching career.

Shim, 30, and Farrelly, 31, spoke on TODAY Tuesday alongside U.S. women's national team star Alex Morgan, who has been by the pair's side as they made their accusations public.

"He's a predator," Shim told Savannah Guthrie about Riley. "He sexually harassed me. He sexually coerced Sinead, and he took away our careers."

Riley, 58, has denied all the accusations. He responded in writing to The Athletic and denied having sexual relations with players.

“I have never had sex with, or made sexual advances towards these players,” he wrote. 

The fallout also included the resignation of NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and the cancelation of all the league’s games this past weekend.

“I’m so grateful for Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly,” Orlando Pride goalie Erin McLeod told Sam Brock on TODAY Tuesday. “I can’t imagine putting that story out so publicly, and the courage it takes, but it also makes me sick, that it has taken that article for us to do something about it.”

The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, the reporter who broke the story, also spoke to Brock about Farrelly’s accusations. 

“The first time that she felt coerced, that’s the word that she uses — they went into a room together, and something happened in that room,” Linehan said. “And then it happened again. Two more times.”

In her TODAY sit-down on Tuesday, Farrelly said the alleged abuse involving Riley still affects her day-to-day life. She and Shim are both retired from the sport. 

“I think it’s just really important and why we wanted to share our story and share in so much detail, the damage that was done to our careers, but who we are as people,” Farrelly said. “The damage to my self-confidence and how I saw myself, how I approached life, it seeps into every part of your livelihood. 

“There is a lot of loss that comes with that, and things I will not get back. It’s bigger than the sport,” she said. “This is about safety in our own lives and our bodies, and the players deserve that, we all deserve that.”

Shim added, “I’m still damaged.”

“This isn’t something that just goes away overnight because we talk about it,” Shim said. “It’s extremely vulnerable and detailed … I’m just so grateful for this opportunity to get these bad people out of the league, and really shine a light on this issue because it’s so prevalent. 

“It’s not just this team, it’s not just this coach, it’s across the league, it’s across the sport, and we have to do something about it,” she said.

In a recent series of tweets, Morgan said the league was alerted to accusations against Riley "multiple times." Her tweets included a purported email exchanged between Farrelly and Baird from April. NBC News has not verified the emails.

In a statement Monday, Baird said she was "proud" of what she did to make the league better.

She added that she was hired "five years after the investigation against coach Paul Riley was conducted and concluded" and that she "fought to enact initiatives that protected women in our league."

Riley was investigated in 2015 while he was the head coach of the Portland Thorns FC after Shim emailed the team's owner and top officials about incidents of alleged sexual coercion, according to The Athletic.

Farrelly told The Athletic she was also interviewed during the investigation into Riley, which ultimately resulted in the team not renewing his contract. Less than a year later, he was hired by another team, the Western New York Flash, leaving players wondering how he was allowed to continue coaching in the NWSL.

The league is now conducting multiple investigations, saying it will "undertake a significant systemic and cultural transformation" to "regain the trust" of players and fans.

The league says it will conduct independent examinations of worksafe policies and enforcement at each club and reopen the 2015 investigation into Riley.

"What are we saying to young players 12 or 13 years old, about what we are going to allow to happen to our athletes in this country?" McLeod said. "And that’s unforgivable that this is happening, and it continues to happen.”