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Merritt Paulson steps down as CEO of Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns

A global search for a new CEO for both teams will begin immediately.

SOCCER: APR 22 MLS - New York City FC at Portland Timbers

Merritt Paulson, owner and CEO of the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns, announced via a statement today that he is stepping down as CEO of both clubs, effectively immediately.

“I apologize to our players, the organization, and the Portland community for the mistakes we made, including not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley’s termination,” Paulson said in a statement released by PTFC. “Our organization’s failures and mistakes were ultimately my responsibility, and my responsibility alone.”

“Part of me holding myself accountable is recognizing that someone else needs to take the reins of the organization and operational decision-making,” Paulson shared. He announced last week that he was removing himself from Thorns-related decision making, but now he recognizes that “[A]nother step is necessary.”

“Effective immediately, I am removing myself as CEO of the Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers, and announcing a global search for a CEO of the organization.”

In his absence, general counsel Heather Davis will step in as interim CEO for both clubs. Sarah Keane, Davis’ chief officer appointee, will lead the search for a permanent CEO. According to a story from The Oregonian/OregonLive, Davis and Keane have committed to having both Thorns and Timbers players meet the final CEO candidates.

The statement makes no mention of a sale of either club. So as of now, Paulson will maintain his ownership stake in PTFC. The change is that he now will no longer be involved in operational decisions for either club.

Peregrine Sports LLC is the majority owner and business operator of PTFC, of which Merritt Paulson is the primary owner.

While the statement made no mention of it, a sale of either or both clubs is still a possibility. A team source confirmed to Ryan Clarke ofThe Oregonian/OregonLive that “While a determination has yet to be made on the future of Merritt’s ownership of the Thorns, his North Star is to ensure the franchise’s continued viability and that it remains in Portland.”

This move comes after a tumultuous week for PTFC after the release of the U.S. Soccer investigation into abuse in NWSL and women’s soccer led by Sally Yates. The report painted a damning picture of a culture of silence and abuse across women’s soccer in this country, and was the clearest description yet of the failures of the PTFC organization in sufficiently protecting the players of the Thorns and the NWSL from Paul Riley’s alleged abuse.

In the wake of the report’s release, there has been intense pressure from supporters and sponsors alike for significant structural change to be made within the PTFC organization. Because of that pressure, last week Timbers general manager and president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and Timbers and Thorns president of business Mike Golub were both fired.

Now Paulson is stepping away from operational decision making for both clubs.

This news comes on the heels of the Timbers missing out on the MLS playoffs on the final day of the season, and ahead of the Thorns playing an NWSL Playoffs semifinal at Providence Park on October 23.

This is surely just the next step in what has been a necessary reckoning for PTFC, and will surely be followed by more news and updates in the coming weeks and months, as both franchises enter an uncertain and unclear future.

You can read Paulson’s full statement here.