Thorns, Red Stars up for sale in aftermath of scandal

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Thorns, fresh off their third National Women’s Soccer League championship, are up for sale following the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the organization and league.

Owner Merritt Paulson announced Thursday his decision to sell the Thorns but keep the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.

“The past year has been a challenging one for our club and our players. I regret the role our organization played in the failures identified by the investigations. Despite these challenges, the Portland Thorns have a bright future ahead and a lot left to accomplish,” Paulson said in a lengthy release.

“To fully realize (their) potential, 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. This has been a difficult decision for me, but I believe this is the best way to position the Thorns for continued success during this next chapter of the NWSL and the sport.”

Later Thursday, Sportico reported that the Chicago Red Stars were also headed for a sale after founding owner Armin Whisler hired an outside firm to help him sell his majority stake.

Paulson and Whisler were both implicated in an investigation into NWSL players claiming sexual abuse by coaches and staff around the league.

A report by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released in early October found that Paulson continued to support then-Thorns coach Paul Riley despite the fact that players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim reported that Riley maintained “a pattern of sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching, and coercive sexual intercourse.”

The Timbers and Thorns FC fired president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub in the aftermath of the report. Riley was fired in 2015.

Whisler was found to have dismissed player complaints about the behavior of former Red Stars head coach Rory Dames. As a result, Chicago’s board of directors voted to remove him from the league’s board of governors, and he stepped away from day-to-day operational control of the club.

The Yates report also named Portland, Chicago and Racing Louisville specifically as clubs that did not cooperate with the investigation.

MLS has said that it would not force Paulson to sell the Timbers. Paulson has owned the Thorns since 2013, the year the NWSL began play.

“We are committed to continue to work collaboratively with the NWSL to ensure we find the right group to take the reins,” Paulson’s statement went on. “We will not rush to a decision as we want to get it right for our players, for Portland and for women’s soccer.

“I am fully committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure a smooth transition and the continued success of the Thorns, including providing favorable usage terms for Providence Park that will enable the Thorns to continue to capitalize on their popularity in Portland.”

The Thorns defeated the Kansas City Current on Oct. 29 to claim the organization’s third NWSL title.

–Field Level Media

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