Merritt Paulson steps down as CEO of Portland Thorns, Timbers

By Meagan Cuthill (OPB)
Oct. 11, 2022 5:31 p.m. Updated: Oct. 11, 2022 11:47 p.m.
Portland Timbers team owner Merritt Paulson stands on the sidelines of a soccer pitch, wearing a mask with small Timbers logos.

Portland Timbers team owner Henry Merritt Paulson III, stands on the sidelines before the first half of an MLS soccer match against Orlando City, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla.

John Raoux / AP

The owner of Portland’s two professional soccer teams has exited his role as chief executive officer, according to a statement released Tuesday morning.


Merritt Paulson has owned both the Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers since their inceptions into the National Women’s Soccer League in 2013 and Major League Soccer in 2011, respectively. Now, Paulson will no longer serve as CEO of the clubs.

His departure as top executive comes just over a week after an independent investigation into the NWSL found systemic abuse, with specific scrutiny toward the management of the Portland Thorns.

The report was launched last year after The Athletic published a story in which former players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of sexual coercion and harassment against former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley.

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson raises the trophy after the Timbers defeated the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the MLS Cup championship soccer game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson raises the trophy after the Timbers defeated the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the MLS Cup championship soccer game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.

Paul Vernon / AP

Fallout from last Monday’s report led to the firings of President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and President of Business Mike Golub last Wednesday. Golub resigned as a member of the OPB Board on Friday.

In Paulson’s statement on Tuesday, he addressed Farrelly and Shim by name: “I owe Sinead and Mana, the Thorns players and the NWSL my tireless effort to actively make sure what happened in 2015 never happens again.”


He goes on to apologize for mistakes made by Thorns management in the handling of Riley’s termination from the club.

“Our organization’s failures and mistakes were ultimately my responsibility, and my responsibility alone.

It is devastating to me that my goal of creating the shining example of what a women’s sports team could be, has now become synonymous with abhorrent and predatory behavior.”

Merritt Paulson

Read his full statement here.

Gabby Rosas is president of nonprofit soccer supporter group, 107ist, and chair of diversity for the Thorns’ fan club, the Rose City Riveters.

“There’s a lot of healing that needs to happen within this community, and I am hopeful we can start doing that,” Rosas said. “But it’s also an opportunity for the players and the employees to really start advocating for the additional changes that are needed within the PTFC Organization, within the NWSL.”

Rosas said fans were devastated and angry with the handling of Riley’s termination when the reports of sexual harassment came to light. More than a year later, she said they are advocating for change, especially surrounding reporting abuse.

“I do think that this is a moment in time when soccer in America really needs to look at the whole system, and start having the real conversations about how to fix the system,” she said.

Paulson wrote Tuesday that a global search has launched to find the next CEO of the Thorns and Timbers. He announced Heather Davis will remain interim president and interim CEO while Sarah Keane, whom Davis appointed interim COO, will lead the search for a permanent CEO.

Paulson made no mention of his standing as owner of the teams in his statement Tuesday. Many have called for him to sell the clubs, including soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Rosas.

“I hope we start to see movement towards Merritt Paulson and Peregrine Sports LLC shopping for a new owner,” Rosas said. “I think that there has just been too much damage done. This is irreparable, so much trust has just evaporated.”