USWNT players demand accountability from U.S. Soccer after more abuse allegations

United States Forward Alex Morgan (13) converses with United States Forward Christen Press, SOCCER: FEB 19 Women's Olympic Qualifying - Semifinal - USA v Trinidad & Tobago
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Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe were among nine players from the U.S. national team who signed a letter criticizing U.S. Soccer for its handling of complaints against former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames.

Dames has been accused of misconduct stretching back decades when he was a youth team coach, well before he joined the National Women’s Soccer League team, according to a report The Washington Post published Tuesday.

In addition to Morgan, Press and Rapinoe, the letter was signed by Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn.

The accusations included verbal and emotional abuse and other inappropriate behavior. An elite youth player, who was not named by the Post, also claimed that Dames groomed her for a sexual encounter once she turned 18. A lawyer for Dames denied the claims in the story.

The players’ letter was sent Wednesday to U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, as well as former president Carlos Cordeiro. Both are again candidates for the post, with the election set for March 5.

“Over the years, while we played on the USWNT and in the National Women’s Soccer League, many of us reported to USSF instances where, as adults, we experienced abusive conduct by our coaches,” the letter said. “Now we have learned that this abusive treatment also was repeatedly reported by minors and that USSF failed to respond to protect these young players. That is utterly disheartening.”

Dames was investigated by police in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1998 after a former player said he inappropriately touched her when she was underage. The investigation was dropped because no formal complaint was filed.

“Mr. Dames has a reputation as an excellent soccer coach over 25 years of coaching thousands of soccer players. With the exception of a few players disgruntled for one reason or another, the vast majority of players have thanked Mr. Dames for investing in them as players,” attorney Susan Bogart told the Post in response to the allegations.

Dames was one of five coaches in the NWSL who stepped down or were fired last season for misconduct.

North Carolina coach Paul Riley was fired after two of his former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, accused him of sexual harassment and coercion. Those accusations prompted both the NWSL and U.S. Soccer to open investigations, and led to the resignation of NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird.

Dames abruptly resigned last November ahead of another report in the Post that said former players, including Press, had gone to U.S. Soccer with complaints about Dames going back to 2014.

“The mission of U.S. Soccer’s new leadership, which has been in place since 2020, is to create a safe space for all athletes who love this sport to learn, grow and compete,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday night. “We share the concerns about allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct and have taken the important step of retaining former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General of the United States Sally Q. Yates to conduct an independent investigation.”

Yates’ investigation is ongoing. In their letter, the players called for transparency and action.

“To rebuild the trust of players, fans, and sponsors — to move forward – USSF must show that it is serious about change. We demand that USSF release the full findings of its investigation in a timely manner and commit to enacting meaningful institutional reforms to protect players,” the letter said.

“We will not stop fighting until we can ensure that this sport is safe for ourselves, for our daughters, and for every little girl who cheers us on and dreams of one day playing the sport we all love,” it continued. “We hope your immediate actions will demonstrate that you both share this goal.”

Sarah Spain, an ESPN reporter who has an ownership stake in the Red Stars, posted Tuesday on social media: “It’s the same story, over & over again. Across different sports, leagues & countries. The power to change a life & career wielded over girls & boys. Control over a sport they love. A system built to shame & silence. This is sickening, and so many let it keep happening.”

Another former player, Megan Cnota, said Dames made comments of a sexual nature and degraded the players. She was among those who spoke to police at the time.

“We tried to make it come to light 25 years ago,” Cnota told the Washington Post, “and nobody believed those teenagers.”

In all, 14 former youth players told the Post that Dames was verbally and emotionally abusive toward them.

Rapinoe posted a statement of support on Twitter, adding: “Yet another monster operating in plain sight for decades. [Molly Hensley-Clancy] thank you for your work. To all the little girls who have turned into women who have suffered verbal, emotional, sexual and physical abuse under Rory you have been failed to deeply. You are brave beyond belief.”

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Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”