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Sophia Smith hints at ‘changes’ with Thorns after Yates report

Sophia Smith finished the 2022 regular season as the Thorns' leading scorer. (Soobum Im/Getty Images)

United States women’s national team and Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith says the Thorns organization is moving in the right direction following the release of Sally Yates’ U.S. Soccer report on systemic abuse in the NWSL last week.

Smith, who is in Spain for a USWNT friendly on Tuesday, said conversations between Thorns players who are with the national team, those who are still in Portland and the staff are ongoing. The Thorns were one of the clubs at the center of Yates’ findings for covering up accusations of sexual misconduct against former coach Paul Riley and not fully cooperating with the investigation, according to the report.

“They’ve been listening to the players,” Smith said during a press conference on Monday. “We’ve expressed how we felt and haven’t been afraid to kind of speak up. I’m happy with the direction things are going.”

Smith, the Thorns’ leading scorer in 2022, said she can’t share specifics of those conversations since they are confidential within the team, but she added that “changes are being made.” Thorns teammates Lindsey Horan and Crystal Dunn said last week that it’s hard to feel proud playing for the club after the revelations in the Yates report.

One of those changes took place Tuesday, as owner and CEO Merritt Paulson announced that he is stepping down as CEO of both the Thorns and the Timbers (MLS), effective immediately.

Paulson was cited in the Yates report for failing to make public the reason for Riley’s firing in 2015, despite an internal investigation into players’ claims of sexual harassment and abuse against him. This allowed Riley to continue coaching for another six years in the NWSL.

Riley was also given a positive referral from the Thorns as he went on to coach the Western New York Flash, which later became the North Carolina Courage. Riley was fired from the Courage last October after The Athletic first reported allegations of sexual coercion and emotional abuse against the coach.

Thorns general counsel Heather Davis will serve as interim CEO while the club searches for a permanent replacement.