If you’re an eagle-eyed social media watcher, there were some signs that Mana Shim may have been planning a comeback this offseason, the midfielder training hard in recent weeks.
But it was still a surprise to see Shim on the inaugural preseason roster for San Diego Wave FC, considering she last played professional soccer in 2018 with the Houston Dash.
In the meantime, she’s been busy, attending law school, but Shim was thrust back into the spotlight last fall, when she came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and sexual coercion by Paul Riley when he coached her at the Portland Thorns, in addition to accusing Thorns then-GM Gavin Wilkinson of urging her to keep her sexual identity quiet in the press.
Shim was one of several players to step forward in 2021, and the fallout from a multitude of scandals continues in the NWSL. But to see her step back into preseason camp, still just 30 years old, provides one of the most intriguing narratives around the league.
Forward Alex Morgan, one of the stars of Wave FC, the NWSL overall and the U.S. Women’s National Team, was a star player who served as an ally to Shim and other teammates, supporting her as the Hawaii native made formal complaints to the team and eventually, the league, with varying results. While Riley was fired by the Thorns after the 2015 season, they didn’t disclose misconduct by the coach, which allowed him to move to another club and quite possibly engage in more misconduct for several more years. The league, meanwhile, sat on their hands until they were deluged with scorn after the various scandals broke in 2021. In fact, Morgan called out then-NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird for claiming she hadn’t heard the stories surrounding Riley, providing copies of an email to the contrary from Baird, leading to the executive’s resignation.
But now, with the players looking to turn over a new leaf, in safer circumstances, Shim and Morgan are reunited in preseason with Wave FC.
Morgan was asked about Shim’s presence in camp during a conference call with reporters last week.
“Mana’s one of my best friends. And so to have her here is just great for me, to have one of my best friends in the same city. Being able to play with her, knowing her qualities, and just having a fellow lefty as well is always really fun,” Morgan said.
“And she has unfinished business. So it’s always great to see someone so committed, in the middle of law school, to come and commit to playing in the NWSL. And just her energy has been really great with this team. She’s a really great culture person. I can only speak highly of Mana and what she’s gone through over these last eight years and now getting the chance to come back, knowing that she can feel completely free and comfortable in this environment after the work that she and the NWSLPA, players have after what we’ve all fought for in these last 18 months. It just feels really great for her to be back in an environment where she is welcomed and protected.”
Shim entered preseason as a non-roster invitee (in other words, a trialist), and given the numbers of players invited to training camp, not everyone who will be on trial in preseason will ultimately sign a contract with San Diego. But, given her experience as an NWSL veteran, hopefully Shim gets a chance to take charge on the “unfinished business” she still has in her soccer career.
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