I had a feeling, obviously due to recency bias, as soon as I saw the news about Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames resigning yesterday morning. It was two days after he had guided the Red Stars to the championship game, even though they were without at least half of their first-choice 11. Sure, he’d been the coach for nine years and there was always a chance he just wanted to move on. But with the way the wind had been blowing in the league for the past few months, you couldn’t shake the feeling that something was up.
And it indeed was, as we found out yesterday afternoon.
It’s hard to choose the most stunning aspect of Molly Hensley-Clancy’s in-depth story, though I tend to lean toward the fact that U.S. team stalwart Christen Press brought her complaint to U.S. Soccer in 2014 to the president of the USSF himself, Sunil Gulati, and Dames kept his job for seven more years.
The allegations in the story won’t read all that uniquely, given the slate of stories like this we’ve had of late. Dames was allegedly abusive to players on the fringes of his team as well as Press, and accused of stepping over the lines of what is appropriate behavior between a coach and player. He made playing a sport all these women had loved into a torture chamber, according to Press.
The difference in this story is the revelation, if it is such a thing, of how the rot goes all the way up through U.S. Soccer and down through the youth ranks. Press says she was gaslighted by Gulati when trying to raise awareness. Press was also allegedly pushed to play in the NWSL to keep the league afloat, which U.S. Soccer controlled at the time. And seeing as how Press was paid a salary by U.S. Soccer due to her standing with the national team, what exactly was she to do? Had she turned her back on the league and headed back to Europe, it’s easy to connect the dots that see her being punished by keeping her off the national team, and then very well might lose that salary (only 25 players are chosen for that yearly pay by the national team coach).
Then national team coach Jill Ellis did drop Press for a time when she finally got her wish and was traded out of Chicago and away from Dames, but to Houston where she had told people she didn’t want to go.
U.S. Soccer had these players dancing to their tune, and there was little they could do about it. They were used as props to sell a league that U.S. Soccer needed to succeed above all other concerns. While most of the USWNT stars were happy to play on home soil and finally establish a women’s league long-term, this is the price that some of them had to pay.
More worryingly, all of U.S. Soccer, and its roots, both men and women, are built on the youth teams like the one Dames coached and worked his way up from to become the coach of the Red Stars. It’s why the U.S. has had such a hard time producing players, given the cost and inconvenience of getting on these teams and staying on them can be for parents. Low-income families essentially have no chance.
Given their hallowed status, coaches of these teams essentially run a fiefdom, which means they can act just about however they want, because running afoul of them and the opportunities they provide and the scouts they can get players in front of is certainly too great of a risk for most players. Dames didn’t learn this behavior, if true, once he got to the pros, and you can bet the kids’ college savings that he’s hardly alone.
The NWSL is going through their cleanse now. U.S. Soccer can’t be too far behind, and it has many levels to scrub.