Portland Timbers, Thorns name CEO to replace Paulson following NWSL fallout

By Meagan Cuthill (OPB)
Jan. 25, 2023 6:02 p.m.
Portland Timbers and Thorns CEO Heather Davis is pictured at Providence Park. Davis was announced as the top executive of the teams on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

Portland Timbers and Thorns CEO Heather Davis is pictured at Providence Park. Davis was announced as the top executive of the teams on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Timbers

Portland’s professional soccer teams now have a new chief executive officer, the Timbers announced Wednesday. Heather Davis has been appointed to the role after a roughly three-month search.

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The owner of the Timbers and Thorns, Merritt Paulson, stepped down as CEO of the teams in October. His departure as top executive came after an independent investigation into the National Women’s Soccer League found systemic abuse, with specific scrutiny toward the management of the Portland Thorns.

Portland Timbers team owner Merritt Paulson stands on the sidelines before the first half of an MLS soccer match against Orlando City, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. Merritt Paulson, also the owner of the Portland Thorns, announced Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

Portland Timbers team owner Merritt Paulson stands on the sidelines before the first half of an MLS soccer match against Orlando City, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Kissimmee, Fla. Merritt Paulson, also the owner of the Portland Thorns, announced Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

John Raoux / AP

Club leadership has been embroiled in controversy since late 2021. 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 Thorns coach Paul Riley.

Exits from the organization since October include:

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· President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and President of Business Mike Golub in the aftermath of the NWSL report

· Head coach Rhian Wilkinson after she internally reported a relationship with a player

· Assistant coach Sophie Clough and athletic trainer Pierre Soubrier following a misconduct investigation

Now, Davis will head all business and operational aspects of the Timbers, Thorns and Providence Park, including overseeing the sale of the Thorns.

“Heather has been nothing short of remarkable during her time here,” said Paulson in a statement issued Wednesday. “She joined us during a challenging period and has overseen significant positive change for the club. We had tremendous external interest in this position, but Heather has earned the trust of our staff and I could not be more pleased to remove ‘Interim’ from her title. She will be an outstanding leader for our organization.”

According to the Timbers, Davis is a born and raised Oregonian and was first hired as the organization’s general counsel in May 2022. When Paulson stepped down as CEO, she was selected as the interim replacement. Before the Timbers, Davis previously worked for the National Football League for nine years.

“I am incredibly grateful for the support of our staff and for the confidence that Merritt has shown in me to lead this club,” said Davis in the statement provided by the Timbers. “It is an extraordinary privilege to be entrusted to lead such a storied and successful franchise that means so much to so many in my home state. We will continue to do the work to be a first-in-class club that everyone can be proud of.”

Providence Park is pictured in Portland, Ore., Saturday, May 2, 2020. Major League Soccer took a significant step toward reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing it would allow teams to hold workouts for individual players.

Providence Park is pictured in Portland, Ore., Saturday, May 2, 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

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