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Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars up for sale

NWSL clubs on the market amid fallout from US Soccer investigation.

2 December 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • Current owners Merritt Paulson and Arnim Whisler named in report investiganwscwting abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s soccer
  • No firm timeline in place to find new buyers

Two National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) teams could soon be under new ownership after the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars were put up for sale.

The Thorns’ current owner Merritt Paulson has confirmed the club is on the market, having been under pressure to sell. The American businessman stepped down from his role as chief executive of the Thorns and Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Portland Timbers following US Soccer’s investigation into alleged abuse and sexual misconduct in the domestic women’s game.

Paulson was named in the probe’s report by lawyer Sally Yates, who detailed how he was supportive of Paul Riley, a former Thorns coach whom several players filed complaints against.

Announcing his decision to sell up, Paulson said: “The past year has been a challenging one for our club and our players. I regret the role our organisation 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.

“To fully realise that 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.”

The Oregonian reported in October that a group of female entrepreneurs led by former Nike executive Melanie Strong was interested in acquiring the Thorns and Timbers. However, Paulson’s looming sale of the NWSL side is not expected to affect his ownership of the MLS franchise.

Paulson added that he will work “to ensure a smooth transition and the continued success of the Thorns”, including providing “favorable usage terms” for the Providence Park stadium. He also said he will “not rush” to a decision over finding a buyer.

Meanwhile, Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler has begun the process of selling his majority stake in the club, according to Sportico.

Whisler has reportedly brought in investment bank Inner Circle to facilitate the sale.

Much like the Thorns, there is no firm timeline in place to secure a buyer and the process is only in its early stages.

Whisler was urged by Red Stars players in October to part with his stake after US Soccer’s investigation.

Whisler was named in the report and was found to have repeatedly dismissed allegations made against former Red Stars coach Rory Dames that dated back to 2014. That prompted Whisler to leave his role within the NWSL board of governors and hand over operational control of the Red Stars to the club’s executive team.

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