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.”

Portland Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson might have been known by her team this year as the coach that holds the most meetings, but it paid off. Finishing second in the regular season standings, Wilkinson and the Thorns tallied the most goals in the NWSL with 49, ranked first in clean sheets and had the most shots on target per match as they played their way to the NWSL Championship.

The former Portland player, inexplicably to her players, was never nominated for Coach of the Year, but on Saturday, she ended the season with the biggest statement yet. The Thorns claimed their third NWSL title with a 2-0 shutout of the Kansas City Current, and now own the most championships in NWSL history.

Wilkinson achieved all of this in her first season coaching in the NWSL, and as the club was being investigated for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against former head coach Paul Riley.

“I think it’s bulls–t that she wasn’t up for Coach of the Year,” Thorns forward and 2022 NWSL MVP Sophia Smith said after the final. “To come into a team like this, a club with this reputation, is hard in itself. To come in with all of this happening, all these distractions going on…”

“I keep calling her Coach of the Year,” added goalkeeper Bella Bixby. “I think she’s our Coach of the Year. I think she definitely should have been nominated. I think it’s easy to overlook because historically, this is a successful club. So it’s like, ‘Oh, she inherited a successful team,’ but it’s not easy to come in. … She’s a big part of why we’re here and lifting a trophy.”

Implementing a 4-3-3 formation on Sunday, Wilkinson has never been one to stick to one system. She rotated players through the starting lineup and tried at least three or four different formations throughout the season. That flexibility, Bixby says, has allowed the Thorns to play more freely.

Wilkinson’s intention since taking the job was not to change too much of what former head coach Mark Parsons had built over the past six seasons, but to add her own twist, which included playing the ball out wide more often.

By the time the championship came around, Portland knew how to spread teams apart and how to play in any shape. There was nothing new they had to do to prepare. They just went out and played.

And they dominated.

Sometimes the pressure can be overwhelming in big games like Saturday’s, but Smith, who scored the winning goal four minutes in, genuinely had fun.

“To come in with this team and to implement her style but also take on what we had already built with this club is a really hard thing to do, and I don’t think people give her enough credit for that,” Smith said.

Wilkinson says it helps that her players have been open to trying new things all year.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I continue to. And I hope I don’t hide from them,” she said on Friday. “I think it’s a real testament to this group that they’ve allowed me to come in, and they were extremely successful last year and had a fantastic coach. They’ve allowed me to come in and try things … They could so easily have just turned on me after one mistake and then that would have been it, but instead they gave me great feedback, which I welcome.

“As long as it’s done professionally and with courtesy, I think it has to be a conversation. They’ve been brilliant all season, and I’m really proud of that.”

Part of the journey has been navigating professional relationships with her best friends and former Canada teammates, Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc and captain Christine Sinclair. Wilkinson kept Sinclair out of the starting lineup for Portland’s semifinal against the San Diego Wave, making it Sinclair’s first playoff game since the league’s inception in 2013 that she wasn’t part of the starting XI.

“We’ve definitely set our boundaries that we are a player and coach, and for right now, that’s it,” Sinclair told Just Women’s Sports earlier this month. “I mean, that sounds so mean, but right now it’s, ‘How can we help the Thorns win and succeed?’”

And that’s just what they did. After the game, Sinclair and her teammates took their shiny new trophy to their champagne-ready locker room, where Bixby cued up the DMX, and the celebrations could be heard loud and clear from where Wilkinson spoke to the media in the press conference room next door.

When Wilkinson was asked to sum up her thoughts into one word following the win, she said “proud.”

“Proud of this group of women who’ve had a year — we’ll just leave it at that — and the way they showed up today,” she said. “I just thought they were fantastic, and I’m a very proud coach today.”

And now, after all she and the Thorns had accomplished this year, there was only one thing she had left to do.

“I want to go to sleep,” she said.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson made a strong statement about issues of abuse and sexual misconduct in sports ahead of the NWSL championship match.

Wilkinson was asked at a press conference Friday if the misconduct allegations in the Thorns’ organization made her wary of joining the club. The 40-year-old coach joined Portland in November 2021 after a brief stint as assistant coach of the England women’s national team.

“I’m Canadian, and I was working in England, and this is everywhere,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s a horrible thing to say. This is not only about soccer. It’s not about the NWSL. It’s not just about women. It’s everywhere, and it’s a problem everywhere.”

Wilkinson will lead the Thorns in the NWSL title game against the Kansas City Current at 8 p.m. Saturday at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., capping a turbulent month for the franchise and for the NWSL.

Sally Yates released the findings of her U.S. Soccer-commissioned investigation into “systemic” abuse in the NWSL at the start of October. The report heavily featured the Portland Thorns, who fired former coach Paul Riley in 2015 after a player accused him of sexual harassment and coercion.

Members of the Thorns’ front office, including owner Merritt Paulson, kept the reason for Riley’s dismissal under wraps, and Riley went on to coach for the North Carolina Courage until the allegations against him became public in September 2021.

Paulson will not attend the NWSL championship amid the fallout from the Yates report. He is facing increasing pressure to sell the Thorns and the Timbers of the MLS from the fanbases of both teams.

When Wilkinson was presented with the opportunity to coach the Thorns, though, she was not deterred by the club’s issues, she said. Rather, the former Thorns and Canada women’s national team player saw an opportunity to coach “one of the best clubs in the world” and also “to try and be world leaders” in terms of club and league culture.

“I mean it,” she said. “It’s an opportunity, and we have to see it as that.”

While she did not downplay the misconduct in the NWSL, she made clear that the culture of abuse in sports extends well beyond one league.

“I need to continue to state this: I’ve played in a lot of different countries. I’ve lived in a lot of different countries. It’s everywhere,” Wilkinson said. “So people that are finger-pointing at the NWSL, I’m glad they’re holding us to a standard, and we’re going to take that mantle and lead the way and be best in practice. But it is not unique to the NWSL and it did not scare me away from joining this league.”

Rhian Wilkinson has officially been tabbed as the next head coach of the Portland Thorns.

The news comes after reports by The Athletic in early November that singled out Wilkinson as the club’s next head coach following the departure of Mark Parsons to the Netherlands’ national team.

“After an extensive and collaborative search process, I am thrilled to welcome Rhian Wilkinson as the head coach of the Portland Thorns,” said Thorns FC owner and CEO Merritt Paulson in a release. “Rhian has tremendous leadership qualities, character and soccer acumen that will help us grow in new ways and sustain our success. I expect her to ensure the club culture we have built is maintained while also putting her own stamp on the Thorns.”

The 39-year-old has spent time as an assistant coach with the England’s Women’s National Team and for the Canada Women’s National Team.

Wilkinson made one appearance for the Thorns in 2015 and spent time on the Canadian national team with recently-hired Thorns’ general manager Karina Leblanc.

“The hiring of Rhian is a testament to the work and dedication the players, staff and organization put into this coaching search,” said LeBlanc. “Culture is at the core of this team’s success, and Rhian is a culture-first coach, who I believe can navigate and lead us where we want to go.

“Since leaving the field, Rhian has quickly accrued valuable coaching experience and knowledge at the international level, helping her stand out in a deep and competitive candidate pool. She knows how to challenge players in an inspiring, motivating and honest way and she will bring integrity to the role, while being a player-first person and coach.”

In an interview posted to the team’s social media accounts, Wilkinson emphasized how she’s not looking to change too much about the team, which won the NWSL Shield this season as well as the Challenge Cup.

“I will not be rewriting a successful book,” she said. “This team is doing a lot of things really, really well right now and I have to highlight the incredible staff. To follow that is an honor. This is the ideal situation to be walking into.”

She added that she’s excited to bring a new energy to the team. Still, she knows that with her experience as both a player and a coach, the opportunity has been earned.

“I don’t want to say this is a dream come true because then I think people feel like it’s being gifted,” she said. “I know I’ve earned this opportunity, I’m so excited to show what I can bring and to work with the amazing players that are already here and the incredible staff that are in place and the work they’re doing.”

The Portland Thorns have reportedly tabbed Rhian Wilkinson as the club’s next head coach, according to The Athletic.

Sources have said that Wilkinson, who made one appearance for the Thorns in 2015, will succeed Mark Parsons as manager for the 2022 season.

Wilkinson was a staple on the Canadian national team, winning two bronze medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. She retired in 2017 after 181 appearances with the team. Since then, Wilkinson has spent time as an assistant for Canada and leading the U-20 and U-17 programs.

Earlier this year, she spent some time on England’s coaching staff alongside Hege Riise.

Previously, the Thorns announced the hiring of Karina LeBlanc as general manager. According to The Athletic, LeBlanc participated in the final rounds of interviews. Both LeBlanc and Wilkinson played together on the Canadian national team. One source also said that Thorns players were involved in the hiring process.

The Thorns aren’t expected to make an announcement until the season is over.

Current head coach Mark Parsons is set to depart the team upon conclusion of their season to coach the Netherlands national team.

The Thorns are set to play the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals of the NWSL playoffs on Sunday with their sights set on the final in Louisville.