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Thorns’ Bella Bixby tells fans: ‘We need you now more than ever’

(Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby penned a poignant letter to fans ahead of the NWSL playoffs asking for their support but also respecting their responses to the latest abuse revelations.

Bixby published the letter via social media Wednesday. The postseason begins Sunday with two first-round matches, but the No. 2 seed Thorns received a bye into the semifinals. They’ll host their playoff opener at 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 23.

“We’d love to have one last party at Providence Park in a few weeks, and we want you there,” Bixby wrote. “Because the club belongs to us.”

The goalkeeper, who debuted for the Thorns in 2020 and has starred for the team in each of the last two seasons, has not shied away from speaking out on issues within the NWSL. That continues with this statement, which comes in the wake of Sally Yates’ blockbuster report for U.S. Soccer on abuse within the league.

The U.S. Soccer report focused on sexual misconduct allegations against three coaches in particular, including former Thorns coach Paul Riley, who led the team for the 2014 and 2015 seasons before he was fired after complaints of sexual harassment and coercion.

Thorns owner Merritt Paulson and former general manager Gavin Wilkinson kept the reasons for Riley’s exit under wraps. When another NWSL team spoke with spoke with Wilkinson about hiring Riley, the general manager said he felt Riley “was put in a bad position by the player” and he “would hire him in a heartbeat,” per the report.

Since the report was released on Oct. 3, Paulson has stepped down as CEO of the Thorns and of his MLS club, the Portland Timbers. Wilkinson, who remains part of the parent club PTFC, and president of business operations Mike Golub also have stepped away from the Thorns.

“I understand that a lot of folks are having a hard time deciding whether or not they want to come to our semifinal match; some have already chosen against it,” Bixby wrote. “I would like to say that I respect anyone’s decision not to come.

“However, if you are on the fence, this is what I offer to you, from a player’s perspective — whether you support the Thorns alone, any other team in the league, or women’s soccer across the globe, we need you now more than ever.”

Bixby makes clear that she understands fans’ varied reactions to the reports of abuse across the NWSL, and she acknowledges the “nuanced and complex situation” fans and players alike are facing.

“To be clear, I’m not arguing that if you don’t come, you don’t love the players — everyone is ultimately going to do what is best for them physically and mentally, and I will be at peace with what anyone decides to do.”

Still, to those fans who are still deciding whether to attend the playoff match, Bixby made her pitch.

“You can view that showing up on game day is an act of solidarity with the women on the field who are time and time again punished for the actions of others,” she wrote. “Ask yourself, for this one game, do you love and support the players more than you hate a front office?”