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Online Edition of The Cardinal Times

The Cardinal Times

Online Edition of The Cardinal Times

The Cardinal Times

Portland Thorns’ new owners plan to rebuild reputation

Amanda Schubert
Former owner Merritt Paulson sold the Portland Thorns to RAJ Sports company in January, giving the womens soccer team a fresh start after the 2015 Paul Riley allegations that brought shock and distress to the community.

Paul Riley, the former head coach of the Portland Thorns, a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team, was fired in 2015 due to allegations of sexual harassment and coercion made by Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, as reported by OregonLive. However, his allegations didn’t go public until six years later, resulting in fans boycotting team merchandise and concessions in protest of insufficient investigation of the allegations. 

In addition, the owner of the Thorns during that time frame, Merritt Paulson, has faced criticism and additional questions from fans and the media due to his lack of addressing the allegations against Riley and failing to reveal the motivation for Riley’s disemployment. 

Lincoln senior and Thorns academy soccer player Kennedy Fletcher found the scandal unsettling.

“I was really surprised that there weren’t people in the organization that stopped it before it ever happened. It was really saddening to know that a lot of female players were subjected to that sort of violence, [and even more] that it was happening with one of the best clubs in the NWSL,” said Fletcher.

In December of 2022, Paulson issued a statement saying that a change of leadership was “in the 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.”

RAJ Sports, owned by the Bhathal family, adopted formal ownership of the Thorns on Jan. 3, 2024.

On Feb. 5, the Bhathals were introduced to the community by Thorns staff and youth academy players. Karina LeBlanc, general manager of the Thorns spoke to the press and highlighted how far womens soccer in Portland has climbed since the team was established in 2012, despite the 2015 scandal.

“[People] said [nobody would] show up for Portland or for women’s sports, we had sellout crowds. They said that women’s sports was just a side thing, it no longer is that,” said LeBlanc. “The new ownership that we have here… will share the vision of the club and will give you goosebumps and make you feel inspired.”

In a YouTube video coverage of the welcoming ceremony uploaded by Portland Thorns FC, lead owner Lisa Bhathal Merage speaks about ambitions to make an impact in the world of women’s soccer.

“Our goal for the future of the Thorns is to be the best franchise of women’s soccer in the world,” said Merage. “We do not think of ourselves as owners, we consider ourselves stewards of a beloved community asset.”

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About the Contributors
Amanda Schubert
Amanda Schubert, Design Editor
Amanda is a sophomore this year. She is excited to work with the staff and be a part of the class community and loves to write opinion pieces and sports articles. She also really enjoys designing.
Contact by emailing [email protected] and put the reporter's name in the subject line.
Darby Drozdenko
Darby Drozdenko, Mass Comm Editor
Darby is a sophomore this year. She is excited for writing various types of articles and enjoys interviewing people and learning about different parts of Lincoln.
Contact by emailing [email protected] and put the reporter's name in the subject line.

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