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Rhian Wilkinson resigns as Portland Thorns coach after texts with player

Rhian Wilkinson has resigned as head coach of the Portland Thorns. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson has resigned just weeks after winning the NWSL championship, the team announced Friday.

Wilkinson self-reported an issue to club leadership late in the 2022 season and then was investigated by the NWSL and NWSLPA. The investigation cleared Wilkinson of any wrongdoing, and she will not be disqualified from working in the NWSL in the future, The Athletic reported.

Still, the coach has opted to resign, telling The Athletic that she felt she had “lost the confidence of the team as a whole.”

“Once you’ve lost the locker room, which I have, there’s no return,” she said. “So that’s why I recognized my time in Portland couldn’t be salvaged a long time ago, because there were players who just wouldn’t communicate with me. And that part I can live with. When the locker room — whatever reason — is gone, it’s gone.”

Wilkinson exchanged a series of messages with Thorns defender Emily Menges in October, during the team’s playoff run, the coach told The Athletic. The two admitted to feelings for one another in the messages but did not act upon them, she said.

Menges has been a member of the Thorns since 2014 and Wilkinson’s teammate in Portland in 2015. In a statement, Wilkinson said she and Menges “formed a friendship that turned into more complex emotions.”

After the series of messages, the two stopped spending time together and Wilkinson reported the communications to human resources. From there, the NWSL and NWSLPA undertook an investigation, which concluded after the season and cleared Wilkinson of wrongdoing.

“The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson followed all League processes and policies and fully cooperated with this investigation,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said. “The joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”

Still, a group of Thorns players sent a letter to Berman and NWSL chief legal officer Bill Ordower saying they felt “unsettled and unsafe” after voicing their concern over the situation, even after the investigation.

An ethical standard had been breached, they wrote in the letter, and trust in the locker room was “irrevocably broken.”