Canadian Rhian Wilkinson resigns as coach of NWSL's Thorns after being cleared of misconduct

Canadian Rhian Wilkinson, seen above in October, resigned as head coach of the NWSL's Portland Thorns on Friday after being cleared of misconduct following a league investigation. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images - image credit)
Canadian Rhian Wilkinson, seen above in October, resigned as head coach of the NWSL's Portland Thorns on Friday after being cleared of misconduct following a league investigation. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images - image credit)

Canadian Rhian Wilkinson announced she was stepping down as head coach of the NWSL champion Portland Thorns on Friday.

Wilkinson was recently cleared of misconduct following a league investigation into a relationship with one of her players.

However, the Baie D'Urfe, Que., native said in a statement posted to Twitter that the players still asked her to step down, and she agreed. Wilkinson added that players found out about the investigation before she could tell them, and that "the narrative regarding my actions has now taken on a life of its own.

"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."

Wilkinson, 40, said she self-reported to human resources less than a week after "an expression of feelings" over text messages with the player, Emily Menges, who chose to be identified to avoid speculation.

"If there's no imbalance of power, which there isn't, then I do want to put my name on this as like, 'No, this is a very equal situation.' I want people to understand that," Menges, of Garden City, N.Y., told The Athletic.

Wilkinson said they stopped interacting outside of work "immediately," and that the relationship went no further than the texts.

League exonerates Wilkinson

She said the league "completely exonerated [her] of any wrongdoing." NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said there was full cooperation from both the team and Wilkinson.

"The joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a finding of no violation of league policies," Berman said.

The news of Wilkinson's departure comes a day after Thorns owner Merritt Paulson said he is putting the team up for sale. That decision came nearly two months after a pair of team executives were dismissed for their roles in systemic abuse and misconduct that had spanned multiple teams in the NWSL, including the Thorns.

Reports of abuse in the NWSL last season resulted in the resignation of half of the league's coaches.

Wilkinson was hired as Thorns coach in Nov. 2021, leading the team to a title in what turned out to be her lone season on the sidelines.

The team's captain, Christine Sinclair, and general manager, Karina LeBlanc, are also Canadian. The trio won bronze together at the London 2012 Olympics, while Wilkinson and Sinclair repeated the feat in 2016. Only Sinclair, soccer's all-time international scoring leader, was part of the golden team at Tokyo 2020.

WATCH | LeBlanc, Wilkinson reflect on championship run: