The United States’ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) returned in midweek after last weekend’s entire fixture list was postponed due to the devastating sexual misconduct allegations against North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley.
Riley has been sacked by the Courage due to reports over his behaviour while he was in charge of Portland Thorns back in 2015.
As the full details of the allegations against Riley have come out, there has also been scrutiny of systemic issues across the NWSL, which sees abuse covered up and abusers protected. And the players have taken a collective stand to say they will endure it no longer.
Amid mounting public pressure, league commissioner Lisa Baird has also stepped down, having only been appointed at the beginning of 2020.
Despite not being present during the time of Riley’s misconduct, it was revealed she had been included in an email chain earlier this year which requested a new investigation into the claims against the coach, however, she regrettably dismissed it.
The overhaul of individuals within the NWSL’s governing structure looks set to continue as several investigations have begun to unravel all and any instances of abuse, negligence and misconduct. FIFA and the US Soccer Federation have also announced their own investigations into matters to add to the severity of the situation.
The hurt of the misconduct allegations extends far beyond the two extremely brave former players who came forward. The entire player pool, past and present, were insistent on standing together on Wednesday night in solidarity with Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, along with all the others who have been victims of the league’s failure to protect players.
The decision for the players to return to the field during the week took an enormous amount of deliberation, led by the players themselves and with the guidance of the NWSL Players’ Association (NWSLPA).
At the heart of the decision to resume playing was our passion for the sport we all fell in love with at a young age – but our return to the field came with a clear warning we will no longer, in our joy, allow suffering to be swept under the carpet.
The players continue to show immense solidarity and, as some prepared for midweek fixtures, the NWSLPA announced a list of demands for the league and its club owners to adhere to.
✅Read our full statement: https://t.co/KbSoR42iI6
✅Sign our pledge: https://t.co/1732qrMwjJ
— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) October 7, 2021
Throughout the week, Portland Thorns and Washington Spirit players collectively utilised the power of their own social media channels to add specific demands for their own clubs.
Elsewhere, some clubs refused media requests entirely, while others would only answer questions directly related to abuse and mistreatment, keeping sustained focus on the issue.
As always, the NWSL fans heightened and amplified the messaging, as banners were flown outside and inside stadiums, displaying “Protect the Players”.
In the sixth minute of the midweek matches, all players gathered and linked arms around the centre circle as the ball was left in-play for a total of 66 seconds. The relevance of the number six was to represent each year the two players, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, had suffered in silence.
This powerful action was acknowledged both during and after by celebrities and media outlets all across the US, as the drive for groundbreaking change continues to gain momentum.
Chelsea fare better than Arsenal as Champions League groups get going
The group stages of the Uefa Women’s Champions League began in midweek, with both Arsenal and Chelsea involved.
Arsenal’s opening group game was a difficult trip to current holders, Barcelona. The 4-1 defeat certainly halted Arsenal’s flowing league momentum, as they had been thriving up to this point.
The Gunners first loss in nine games was a harsh lesson from one of the most formidable club sides and, scarily, Barca look like they are not done growing in stature yet.
After 60 minutes, Arsenal found themselves 3-0 down, through goals from Mariona Caldentey, Alexia Putellas and Asisat Oshoala, which put the Spanish champions on cruise control.
Frida Maanum got a goal back for Arsenal in the 75th minute, but it would prove to only be a consolation, as Lieke Martens made sure of things soon after.
Barcelona also had an injury time penalty saved in the last kick of the game, preventing the scoreline from getting even worse.
Chelsea had a better week, as they started their group campaign off with a tough visit from Wolfsburg.
The game ended 3-3, in what was an action-packed night at Meadow Lane.
Sam Kerr had put Chelsea ahead, but a catalogue of defensive errors gave the Germans a chance to turn the tie and they ruthlessly opened up a 3-1 lead.
Chelsea fought back though and earned themselves a worthy point, as Beth England and Pernille Harder scored to level things up.
With the restructure of the competition, these results are important, but not decisive, as the sides still have plenty of opportunity to earn their place in the last 16.
Aberdeen Women aim to end Rangers’ unbeaten run
Rangers sit top of the SWPL1 after their 7-1 win on Wednesday night at home to Partick Thistle.
They are the only side to win their five opening games this season and sit two points clear in the standings.
On Sunday, Aberdeen Women will travel to Glasgow in a bid to end the hosts’ unbeaten run. The Dons are in need of a positive reaction after a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to Hearts last weekend.
Voting is also open for September’s SWPL1 Player of the Month prize. After a promising start to the season, Aberdeen’s Eilidh Shore is deservingly nominated.