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Thorns owner Merritt Paulson recuses himself from club decisions

Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson sought to keep the cause of coach Paul Riley's dismissal from the club under wraps. (Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson will be removing himself from all Thorns-related decisions following the results of the investigation into the NWSL conducted by US Soccer, he announced Tuesday.

President of business operations Mike Golub and former general manager Gavin Wilkinson, who had remained part of the parent club PTFC, were fired.

In the meantime, Thorns general counsel Heather Davis will make any and all decisions the trio would have been involved in making.

Paulson, Wilkinson and Golub were implicated in covering up abuse or perpetrating misconduct in U.S. Soccer’s report on its NWSL investigation.

When coach Paul Riley was fired by the club in 2015 after sexual harassment and coercion allegations, Paulson and Wilkinson kept the reason for his dismissal under wraps publicly, which allowed Riley to continue coaching in the league.

In his statement Tuesday, Paulson called Monday “the darkest day I have experienced.”

“I know the same is true for everyone else who loves our team and our league,” he wrote. “I imagine that it was even harder and darker for those whose stories were shared publicly.”

Paulson added that, until the NWSL and NWSLPA conclude their own investigation, he cannot make public comments, something he called “tremendously difficult.”

“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 continued. “I very much appreciate your patience and believe it’s critical that the process play out with the Joint Investigation.

“I love the Portland Thorns and women’s soccer, and am taking these steps with those interests in mind.”

The U.S. Soccer investigation began after abuse allegations centered around Riley surfaced in The Athletic last year. The report states that not only did the club engage in covering up the reason for Riley’s exit, Wilkinson also placed blame on a player for his firing.

Paulson gave Riley’s next club – the Western New York Flash, which later became the North Carolina Courage – a glowing review of the coach.

Both Wilkinson and Paulson were named as having made inappropriate comments of their own, while Golub made an inappropriate comment directed at current U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone while she was head coach of the Thorns in 2013.

The report also detailed how the Thorns took actions that hindered the investigation, including failing to produce relevant documents “for months” as well as impeding access to witnesses while citing attorney-client privilege.