The Portland Thorns have announced Karina LeBlanc as their next General Manager, after Gavin Wilkinson was placed on administrative leave in early October.
LeBlanc joins the team from her current role as Head of Women’s Football for Concacaf. With the Thorns, she will be responsible for the overall management of the soccer operations of the club. According to a release, LeBlanc will also have “an integral voice on key business decisions related to the club, helping to create, cultivate and manage the culture of Thorns FC.”
Formerly, LeBlanc served as a goalkeeper for the Thorns when they won the 2013 NWSL Championship.
“I could not be more excited to welcome Karina back to Portland,” said Thorns FC owner and CEO Merritt Paulson. “The global soccer network she has fostered during her career has perfectly positioned her to lead the Thorns, and it is hard to think of anyone with a more innate leadership ability and unique blend of skills than Karina.
“She will make an impact in the Portland community and help push the NWSL forward, as well as strengthen our influence and standard in the international game. Lastly, I am grateful to Victor Montagliani and Concacaf for fully supporting Karina in making this change.”
LeBlanc has been Head of Women’s Football for Concacaf since 2018. In her role, she was focused on developing women’s soccer throughout North America, Central America and the Caribbean Islands by increasing opportunities for women in soccer. In 2019, she launched the Women’s Football strategy.
“When I left in 2014, I felt there was unfinished business for me here. The way the community, the club and the team made me feel, was something that I would never forget. I thought I might come back as a player, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be coming back as the general manager of what is for me, the greatest club in the world. My experience as a Thorn helped shape me into the woman I am today,” said LeBlanc.
“It is hard to leave my Concacaf family. I’d like to thank Victor [Montagliani] for creating a role for myself that allowed me to learn and grow. I know women’s football will continue to be a major priority at Concacaf. I am proud of how we were able to move the game forward. I loved the work I did there, but I missed being around the game, players and the energy of Portland. This is an opportunity to do something that truly matters for a city, a club and a league that’s given me so much. To have the belief of Merritt, the players, and the staff made me realize that this was an opportunity I had to lean into.”
LeBlanc also has extensive experience as a player, having played in all three women’s professional soccer leagues in the United States. She also had an extensive career with Canada’s Women’s National Team, playing in five FIFA Women’s World Cups and two Summer Olympics, including winning a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It starts with the why.”@karinaleblanc details the process to her becoming the Thorns GM, and her vision on how the club and league can grow. #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/yc6X8H37rd— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) November 1, 2021
“It starts with the why.”@karinaleblanc details the process to her becoming the Thorns GM, and her vision on how the club and league can grow. #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/yc6X8H37rd
“With Karina the sky is the limit. I’ve never met someone more passionate and set on growing the game,” said former teammate and current Thorns FC captain Christine Sinclair. “To have her back in Portland for me is a dream come true because she is going to take this club to places I don’t think people think are possible. She’s going to help this club be the benchmark for women’s football around the world and I just can’t wait to get started.”
The move comes after sources told Just Women’s Sports that players around the NWSL were upset that Wilkinson had not been fired in the wake of The Athletic’s report of allegations of abuse by former coach Paul Riley during his time with the Thorns.
Wilkinson has long served as the GM of both the Thorns and the Portland Timbers of the MLS. The Thorns have come under fire in the wake of the Riley scandal for admitting that they withheld an investigation into Riley which resulted in his contract not being extended. When Riley left the club, no mention of the investigation was made. Paulson has since apologized for the organization’s role in the scandal.
The organization has not indicated whether Wilkinson will remain General Manager of the Portland Timbers.
Portland is set to continue their season in the playoffs, hosting a semifinal game on Nov. 14.