Portland Thorns Operate Under New Coaching and Seek a New Owner


Thorns FC

Portland Thorns new head coach, Mike Norris.

Britney Henderson, Staff Writer


Following the sexual misconduct investigation into the Portland Thorns and a large amount of public backlash, owner Merritt Paulson announced on December 1st, 2022 that he would be selling the women’s soccer team. However, despite public pressure, Paulson has decided to maintain ownership of the men’s soccer team, the Portland Timbers.

Paulson held partial responsibility in the release of former coach Paul Riley, who had allegations of sexual wrongdoing with players and staff members. Paulson failed to make this knowledge of the NWSL board before letting go of Riley, leading to further incidents. 

Repeatedly apologizing for his role in the wrongdoing, Paulson announced on the Thorns website that, “…I believe it is in best interest of the Thorns to have a new owner so that the club can operate at the league level with a fresh voice to be a driving force for the NWSL.” Paulson follows this statement with his vision for the team to remain at Providence Park and use the facilities his company, Peregrine Sports, originally provided for both the Thorns and Timbers (Thorns FC). Although stepping down from one of the organizations, it is clear Paulson still has visions for the women’s soccer team and plans to have the new owner meet certain accommodations.

According to ESPN, the estimated value of the women’s soccer team is $60 million and potential new owners have already been in contact with Paulson for the last two months. Former Nike executive, Melanie Strong, leads the investor group made up of 30 women and six key investors. ESPN also confirms the group’s cooperation with a fan-led investor group headed by Chris Bright. Together they hope to offer a formal bid for the organization. With the intent of staying in Portland to build on the existing fanbase, the investors hope under new ownership they are able to create an image for the Portland Thorns that is not always tied to the Timbers.

Just a day later on December 2, 2022 the announcement came that head coach Rhian Wilkinson would resign at the end of the month (Thorns FC). With only a single season with the Thorns, Wilkinson led the team to their third NWSL championship title, during the same time as the Yates investigation. Yet before the season could progress too far, Wilkinson self-reported a matter to the NWSL board revolving around the club’s leadership (Thorns FC). Therefore a second investigation opened, in which they worked jointly with Yates. Wilkinson formally announced on the Thorns website, “I would like to thank the Portland Thorns organization, the fans, the staff and most importantly the players for a remarkable year…During my time in Portland I have met some incredible people and been fortunate enough to coach some of the best players in the game.” Despite the little detail shared about this second investigation, it was announced that no violation of league policies were found and Wilkinson was compliant with the investigation (Thorns FC). 

As December ended, Wilkinson’s time as head coach came to a close, yet the organization did not waste time in appointing a new head coach. On January 9th, 2023, former assistant coach Mike Norris became the designated head coach for the 2023 season (Thorns FC). Spending eight years with a variety of Canadian Soccer teams, and one year with the Canada Women’s National Team, this is only his second year with the Thorns. Having a large impact on last year’s overall record of 10-3-9, high hopes are set for Norris as the Portland Thorns move into the 2023 season.

Many changes happened over the 2022 season for the Portland Thorns, yet they were able to carry on all the way to a league championship. Regardless of the early challenges for 2023, the organization is capable of great success. Fans, employees, and players alike hope to leave this dark time of lawsuits in the past and work toward being remembered for more championship titles and other capabilities within the Portland Thorns organization.