Paul Riley could not sit on the team bench in his first game as coach of the North Carolina Courage. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

CARY, N.C. — In his first game as coach of the North Carolina Courage, Paul Riley did not get a chance to sit on his team’s bench because he was serving a suspension that he incurred last year.

Still, that was no problem for the National Women’s Soccer League defending champions, who registered a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League opener for both sides Saturday.

The Courage, which played as the Western New York Flash last year, prevailed over Washington in a rematch of last year’s championship game.

A Bay Shore, N.Y. resident, Riley could not sit on the Courage bench due to an incident that stemmed back to the 2016 NWSL semifinals against the Portland Thorns.

Last Wednesday the NWSL disciplinary committee announced it had determined that Riley committed misconduct characterized as physical contact with game officials, separate from referee assault. That was in a violation of Section 11.3.6, “Major Game Misconduct” of the league operations manual. Since he already had served one game of the two-game suspension during the NWSL final Oct. 9, Riley still has to sit out Saturday’s encounter.

Riley and a crowd of 2,400 at Maureen Hendricks Field watched midfielder McCall Zerboni scored the team’s first goal of the season in the 18th minute.

“It feels good because this club has been so good to us so far,” Zerboni said. “We’ve been working so hard this preseason, and so to pop a goal in and get a win on our first trial here is good.”

Assistant coach Scott Vallow, who ran the show from the bench, agreed and elaborated.

“They created so many really good chances,” he said. “It was great to be able to get three points, and also be able to learn and get better for next week.”

Riley will be able to coach and sit on the Courage bench when North Carolina hosts the Portland Thorns in their inaugural season home opener at at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on April 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at