Portland Thorns FC announces new head coach


November 12, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson at Providence Park. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer-Portland Thorns

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Thorns Football Club has officially named their new head coach.

The club announced Rhian Wilkinson as their head coach for the 2022 season in a press release on Monday. Thorns FC Owner and CEO Merritt Paulson said he’s thrilled to welcome Wilkinson to the squad after a lengthy search process.

“Rhian has tremendous leadership qualities, character and soccer acumen that will help us grow in new ways and sustain our success,” Paulson said. “I expect her to ensure the club culture we have built is maintained while also putting her own stamp on the Thorns.”

Wilkinson comes to the Rose City from all the way across the pond — most recently serving as an assistant coach for the England Women’s National Team. During her time with the England Lionesses, Wilkinson also helped coach Team Great Britain at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

November 12, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson at Providence Park. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer-Portland Thorns

“I know that I am inheriting a successful, winning culture on and off the field, and I have immense respect for what everybody at the club has built,” Wilkinson said. “This team has a strong foundation with not only top players but great people. For me, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to join this club and organization, and I am looking forward to getting to know Portland again.”

This hiring comes shortly after the Thorns announced their new general manager, former Thorns goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. LeBlanc replaced Gavin Wilkinson — who was recently placed on administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation into his role in an abuse scandal in 2015. 

“The hiring of Rhian is a testament to the work and dedication the players, staff and organization put into this coaching search,” LeBlanc said. “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.”

The football club is working to rebuild its managing staff in the midst of an investigation into one of its former head coaches — Paul Riley. In a report from The Athletic back in late September, Riley is accused of sexual coercion by multiple former players between 2011 and 2015, including players he coached in Portland during that time.

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