Sauerbrunn, a USWNT veteran and captain, has also played for the Thorns since 2020. (Lewis Gettier/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Portland Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn thinks that the NWSL needs to keep league growth at the forefront of its mind as it continues to navigate the aftermath of the Yates report.

Amidst the fallout of the US Soccer investigation into alleged abuses in the NWSL, calls have increased for owners to sell their teams. Amongst them are Chicago’s Arnim Whisler and Portland’s Merritt Paulson.

While the Red Stars’ board of directors has said it intends to facilitate a sale involving Whisler, the Portland Thorns owner has made no such promises. Paulson was directly involved in the Yates report and in the wake has stepped down as CEO of the Thorns. Reports have indicated that the Thorns could fetch a record price.

When asked Saturday if the continued involvement of owners who have contributed to the covering up of abuses in the NWSL could stunt the growth of women’s soccer in the U.S., Sauerbrunn said that it’s something that the league needs to consider.

“I think that is a concern that the NWSL needs to take very seriously,” she said, noting that the upcoming NWSL/NWSLPA investigation will also include disciplinary action and recommendations.”

Sauerbrunn also pointed to the continued fallout of the report, which includes sponsors pulling – or threatening to pull – dollars from teams.

“Now that the NWSL will have the authority to make those decisions, I think that [league growth] needs to be in their heads,” she continued. “That if we’re keeping people in positions where they have enabled abuse, that it’s gonna start hurting the bottom line.”

At the same time, fans could walk away from the game or teams entirely.

“I wouldn’t blame the fans. I think the fans need to process, like we do, everything on their own timeline,” said Sauerbrunn. “So if some feel that they just can’t be here for whatever reason, maybe it’s triggering, maybe they don’t wanna support the team, then that’s their decision.”

But there is still hope that fans will stick around. Portland expects to have a full crowd on Sunday, with over 20,000 tickets sold. It’s that type of support that helps the players as they continue to navigate the aftermath of the report.

“These last couple of weeks have been hard for the players. We always feel like we fall in the middle of everything,” said Crystal Dunn. “It’s very difficult for us to be able to do our job and find joy and passion in doing that when so much around us takes away from that light.

“But at the same time, we’re here to show up for each other and show up for the community that is around this area. It’s incredible that people are supporting us and showing that they care and they wanna share in this burden with us. Hearing that we have a good crowd coming is giving us all the energy and the joy that we need to have a good performance on Sunday.”