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Matt Lampson fired from Houston Dash for alleged player relationship

Houston Dash goalkeeping coach Matt Lampson before the match
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Dash goalkeeping coach Matt Lampson was removed from his duties due to an alleged relationship with a player at the club, multiple sources familiar tell The Equalizer.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Dash responded via email: “Houston Dash goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was terminated on March 18. We respect the privacy and confidentiality of our players and employees and will not comment on specific details of Club employment matters.”

UPDATE March 21, 9:12 AM ET: The NWSL has weighed in on the matter, telling The Equalizer in a statement:

“Following an investigation into allegations of NWSL policy violations the Houston Dash announced the termination of Goalkeeper Coach Matthew Lampson’s employment.

The investigation, conducted by a third-party attorney engaged jointly by NWSL and the Houston Dash, examined third-party reports of Lampson crossing professional boundaries with a Dash player. During the investigation, Lampson was subsequently placed on administrative leave.

The investigator determined that Lampson violated the NWSL Anti-Fraternization Policy and NWSL Coach Code of Conduct which require coaches to maintain strict adherence to professional boundaries but did not find a violation of the NWSL Anti-Harassment Policy which is focused on preventing abusive, discriminatory, or harassing behavior.

As a result of the findings, Lampson’s employment has been terminated by the Houston Dash. Furthermore, the NWSL has suspended Lampson from future employment within the League through the end of the 2024 season due to these violations and lack of full cooperation.

To be eligible for future employment within the League, Lampson must acknowledge wrongdoing, participate in NWSL mandated training, and demonstrate a commitment to correcting his behavior, as determined by the Commissioner.”

The NWSLPA has not responded to a request for comment.

The alleged relationship between Lampson and the player began at the end of 2023, before coming to light with the club’s front office at the beginning of 2024.

A source familiar tells The Equalizer that one of Lampson’s last official actions on staff with the Dash was the 2024 NWSL Draft in Anaheim, Calif., which he attended on Jan. 12. He did not report for preseason on Jan. 29. The Dash declined to comment on Lampson’s reported absence from club duties between Jan. 29 and March 17.

Houston Dynamo academy goalkeeping coach, Eric Klenofsky, has been with the team during preseason and traveled with the Dash to take on the North Carolina Courage last Saturday.

Lampson first joined the Dash at the start of the 2022 NWSL regular season. Prior to Houston, he played for 10 years in Major League Soccer. In that time, the 34-year-old won MLS Cup while also being lauded for his off-field community work. He is the three-time recipient of MLS’ ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award.

League policy for player-coach relationships

In the NWSL’s rules and policies, relationships between players and coaches are prohibited. In the league manual, this breach of policy is referred to as “Power Imbalance.”

The full explanation of the prohibited relationship is written by the league as so:

“Power Imbalance: Where one person is in a “Position of Power” such that, based on the totality of the circumstances, there is a Power Imbalance. Whether someone occupies a “Position of Power” depends on several factors, including: the nature and extent of the supervisory authority over the person; the actual relationship between the parties; the parties’ respective roles; the nature and duration of the relationship; and the age of the people involved, both presently and at time of the relationship’s conception. Once a coach-player relationship is established, a Power Imbalance is presumed regardless of age.

There is a caveat written into the policy that absolves intimate relationships that were already established before two people become player and coach.

“A Power Imbalance may exist, but is not presumed, where an intimate relationship that did not contain a Power Imbalance existed before the coach-player relationship (e.g., a relationship between two spouses or committed partners that preceded the sports relationship).”

These policies were last updated ahead of the 2023 season, which followed the signing of the NWSL’s first collective bargaining agreement in April 2022.

NWSL history regarding player-coach relationships

The NWSL is less than two years removed from the publication of a U.S. Soccer report into Allegations of Abusive Behavior and Sexual Misconduct in Women’s Professional Soccer by Sally Yates. This action, that readdressed the lack of protections for players in the NWSL, was ignited by Meg Linehan’s reporting on the experiences of players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly under coach Paul Riley.

The Yates report was a more generalized and overarching investigation that looked to highlight a few cases in order to explain the vast improper conduct from coaches and staff across the U.S. soccer landscape.

“To illustrate the gravity and the breadth of the misconduct issue, and the institutional failures that perpetuated it, we address three coaches in depth in our report,” Yates said in October 2022.

In December 2022, the league and NWSL Players Association published its own report into the “widespread misconduct” that occurred across multiple teams from 2013 to 2022. One of those acts of misconduct being “crossed professional boundaries with players.” That independent investigation came with new league sanctions for several coaches and staff named in it.

In that joint investigation, it was reported that general manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC, Alyse LaHue, allegedly made “unwanted sexual advances” towards a player at the club in 2021.

Most recently, in December 2022, current Wales head coach Rhian Wilkinson resigned from her position as the head coach of the Portland Thorns following an investigation into a relationship with a player on the team.

The Canadian coach self-reported to the league after she felt she had become too close to a player during the season. Although the NWSL carried out a three-week investigation and cleared Wilkinson of misconduct, she felt she had lost the confidence of the Thorns players and decided to resign.

Relationships elsewhere in women’s soccer

Over the past few weeks there has been an uptick in the conversation surrounding player-coach relationships in English soccer.

In February, former Sheffield United head coach Jonathan Morgan was dismissed for a relationship with a player at his former club, Leicester City. In March, current Leicester City head coach Willie Kirk was suspended for an alleged relationship with a player in his squad.

A report by Tom Garry in The Daily Telegraph claimed that there were at least 36 known player-coach relationships across English women’s soccer. This number does include the top six divisions, and over 200 teams, in the country.

Kirk is the former assistant of San Diego Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney, who has been vocal about how player-coach relationships were not to be permitted under any circumstance. “This should not even be a debate!! Player-coach relationships should NEVER happen. THE END,” the NWSL coach said on Twitter last week.

Stoney was also previously outspoken about the topic during the NWSL investigations in 2022.

“I don’t agree with staff having relationships with players on any level,” Stoney said during a press conference in October 2022. “It’s a power dynamic that should not happen. But this isn’t just an NWSL problem, it’s a women’s sport problem, it’s a women’s football problem.”

She added: “I’ve seen it in so many clubs I’ve been a part of and I don’t agree with it. I’ve moved staff away from my environments in previous jobs because there’s been boundaries crossed, I will not have it at all. I don’t agree with it on any level.”

Last week, Chelsea FC head coach Emma Hayes, who will soon be in charge of the U.S. women’s national team, also spoke on the matter. She called player-coach relationships “inappropriate” while calling for more policies to be implemented into the English Women’s Super League.

“The challenges of coming from an amateur game to a pro game means women’s sport has largely been social, she said. “In almost all areas of our game, we have to make sure there is a minimum standard in place. We have to have safeguarding, to make sure that it’s accessible for each and every club to protect players.”

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