By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigned Friday, just five weeks after she led the team to the National Women’s Soccer League championship.
Wilkinson issued a statement that said players had asked for her resignation and she complied. Wilkinson said she was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing by the NWSL and its players union after she self-reported that she and a player had developed feelings for one another but had never acted upon them. She said she and the player eventually “stopped all communication outside of work.”
“The investigative process and player and staff willingness to use human resources and league reporting is critically important,” Wilkinson said. “If the women’s game is to avoid further power imbalances and player abuses, these systems must be used and there must be trust in the process and its results. We must keep highlighting these processes.”
The investigation revealed no evidence of abuse of power or coercion.
“The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson followed all League processes and policies and fully cooperated with this investigation,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “The joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”
Wilkinson’s resignation comes during a turbulent time for the team and the NWSL.
Team owner Merritt Paulson announced Thursday he is putting the Thorns up for sale, a move that came in the wake of an investigation commissioned by U.S. Soccer into abuse and misconduct in women’s soccer. A report on the investigation conducted by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates detailed systemic misconduct that impacted multiple teams, including the Thorns.
The investigation was launched last year after North Carolina coach Paul Riley, the former coach of the Thorns, was accused of sexually harassing and coercing players. Riley, who was fired by the Courage, denied the allegations. He was one of five coaches in the league who were dismissed or stepped down last year amid claims of misconduct.
The Yates report detailed how the Thorns mishandled complaints about Riley when he coached the team in 2014-15.
Paulson stepped down from a decision-making role with the team in October and two Thorns executives were fired. But calls had persisted for him to sell the Thorns.
The team doesn’t have a timeline for finding a buyer. A goal is to find an owner that will keep the team rooted in the Portland community.
Paulson has owned the Thorns since the creation of the NWSL in 2013. The club has won three NWSL titles, including this year’s championship when it beat the Kansas City Current in the final.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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