Paul Riley sees the Portland Thorns FC coaching job as a chance to help build one of the elite women’s soccer clubs in the world.
“I’d like to have a team that can go anywhere in the world and win their (top) division,” Riley said.
Riley, 50, was named Tuesday as the second head coach for the Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League. The team announced Riley’s hiring for the 2014 season less than a week after Cindy Parlow Cone announced she was stepping down after coaching the Thorns to the first NWSL title this summer.
Based in the Northeastern United States, Riley has coached men and women at the youth, college and professional levels.
He recently interviewed to become the women’s national team coach for his native England, but was not selected for that job.
“Paul is an accomplished coach and we have been very impressed with his knowledge of the Thorns FC organization, the NWSL and the women’s game at the highest levels,” Thorns FC and Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “His experience in managing top-level players was of paramount importance.”
As head coach of the Philadelphia Independence in Women’s Professional Soccer, Riley guided the club to the WPS championship match in each of the team’s two seasons.
Riley said he visited Portland for the first time last week, but has watched a lot of Thorns and Timbers matches on television. He said just standing in empty Jeld-Wen Field gave him a feeling that “this could be special.”
Riley built the Philadelphia WPS team from scratch. In Portland, he takes over a club that won the inaugural NWSL title.
He said his first speech to his team in Philadelphia was about being underdogs with something to prove. To the Thorns, he said, his message will be: “We need to get better. We need to train harder. We need to prepare.”
Vancouver’s Tina Ellertson has never played for Riley but has met him said she is excited by the choice. Ellertson, who joined the Thorns for their playoff run last season, said she hopes to be with the team for the entire 2014 season.
She said Riley is a coach with a reputation for helping players, even professionals, get better.
“For a coach to actually grow your game as a professional is what you want. And I hear that is what he does,” Ellertson said.
Riley said the Thorns can improve upon 2013 by playing well enough in the regular season to have home field for the playoffs. He said he favors a possession-oriented, attacking style of soccer and wants to engage Portland’s talented midfielders to allow world-class forwards Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan to play forward.
Riley said he is familiar with players both domestically and internationally and envisions the Thorns adding international players to their roster. He said “a couple of great announcements are coming down the pike.”
The NWSL, and the Thorns, can become a destination for top players around the world as the league becomes more established, Riley said.
“Who wouldn’t want to come to Portland and play in front of 15,000 crazy fans?” Riley asked.