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Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn: Hard to feel proud to play for Thorns

Lindsey Horan has played for the Thorns since 2016 and won an NWSL championship. (Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

U.S. women’s national team midfielder Lindsey Horan is on loan from the Portland Thorns with Lyon this season, but she’s still feeling the effects of the turmoil surrounding the NWSL.

Horan has played for Portland since 2016, winning a championship in 2017 and NWSL Shields in 2016 and 2021. She’s always been proud to be a Thorn, but after hearing about the roles Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and former general manager Gavin Wilkinson played in covering up abuse from former coach Paul Riley, Horan is struggling to find that pride.

“It’s hard to read this and look back at that and feel proud to play for an organization like that,” she told reporters on Thursday from London, where she is training with the USWNT. “That’s really hard for me personally, and especially with all the work you’ve put in for that team and that club, that’s where I feel hurt and disturbed and obviously, just so much anger for these players as well.”

Wilkinson was relieved of his duties with the Thorns on Wednesday, along with president of business Mike Golub.

This came after the release of the Sally Yates report on abuse in the NWSL, which found Wilkinson, Golub and Paulson had been complicit in Riley’s sexual coercion and harassment of former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly. Despite conducting an internal investigation of Riley’s behavior and parting ways with the coach in 2015, the club cited on-field results as the reason for his departure and recommended him for his next job.

Paulson still owns the Thorns but said he would be stepping away from team-related “decision-making” as Portland enters the NWSL playoffs.

“I cannot apologize enough for our role in a gross systemic failure to protect player safety and the missteps we made in 2015. I am truly sorry,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

But many NWSL players don’t think that’s enough.

“It is my opinion that every owner and executive and U.S. Soccer official who has repeatedly failed the players and failed to protect the players, who have hidden behind legalities and have not participated fully in these investigations, should be gone,” Becky Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday.

USWNT and OL Reign star Megan Rapinoe echoed those comments on Thursday, as the team prepares for a friendly match against England at Wembley Stadium on Friday.

“I don’t think Merritt Paulson is fit to be the owner in Portland. I don’t think Arnim [Whisler] is fit to be the owner in Chicago,” Rapinoe said during a press conference.

USWNT member Crystal Dunn has played for Portland since 2020. Prior to that, she was with the North Carolina Courage from 2018-20, where Riley was at the helm from 2017-21.

She feels similarly to Horan when it comes to representing an organization that failed to protect its players in the past.

“Yeah, I think that is probably one of the hardest things as players that we are facing now, is feeling a sense of pride in playing,” she said. “The jerseys that we’re wearing, it’s hard to be happy in them, it’s hard to find joy in wearing it.”

The Yates report, Dunn says, has caused feelings of anger and sadness within the USWNT. Together, the players are trying to find a balance between those emotions and the on-field focus needed to compete with England, the reigning Euro champions, on Friday.

“A lot of us are trying to find joy in playing this game,” Dunn said. “There’s an amazing game ahead of us on Friday. I think we’re all trying to individually navigate that as best we can. Some of us are just able to separate the two and focus on training one training at a time.”