Portland Thorns owner Paulson won’t attend NWSL Championship

Merritt Paulson, the owner of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington, DC, for Saturday’s NWSL championship between the Thorns and the Kansas City Current not, the team announced in a statement.

Under pressure to sell both teams, Paulson resigned as CEO of both the Thorns and the Timbers on October 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which found systemic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.

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The report detailed several cases of managers involved in the abuse of players and found that some managers ignored complaints made by players, or hid the reasons for a coach being fired. These included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson’s role in hiding the reason for Riley’s firing, which allowed the coach to continue working in the NWSL.

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“Merritt is thrilled to have the Portland Thorns play in another NWSL championship game,” the statement read. “Given the recent changes implemented at the organization [Paulson] will watch the game remotely on CBS.”

The statement added that interim CEO Heather Davis, interim COO Sarah Keane and GM Karina LeBlanc will represent ownership in Washington “when the Thorns hopefully win their third league title in 10 years.”

The statement continued: “As Merritt has shared with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns.”

It is not known if Paulson was present for Sunday’s 2-1 semifinal win over the San Diego Wave. Paulson was not seen in his suite, and when ESPN asked several Thorns staff members if he was present, each said they did not know.

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– Yates report explained: Key findings on abuse of Holly, Riley and Dames

Riley was fired for cause by the Thorns in 2015 following a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.

Throughout the scandal, Paulson tried to position his own missteps as a single mistake in 2015 where the club kept the real reason for Riley’s exit from the public, instead claiming that Riley’s contract was not renewed for on-field reasons is not.

In a letter announcing his resignation as CEO, Paulson wrote that he pledged to “make sure that what happened in 2015 never happens again,” adding that mistakes included “not in to be publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination.”

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But the Yates report names Paulson as having received player complaints alleging Riley was abusive and ignoring them in 2014, the year before Shim’s complaint led to Riley’s termination.

Records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to keep the manner of Riley’s exit from other team owners and downplayed Shim’s allegations as late as 2019, instead voicing support for Riley, allowing the coach to remain active in the NWSL. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to players.

With some supporters demanding that Paulson sell both teams, and with sponsors such as Alaska Airlines diverting sponsorship dollars from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives – president of football Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub – before resigning as CEO .


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