Soccer

Portland Thorns fire manager athletic trainer, assistant coach after NWSL misconduct investigations

The Portland Thorns have fired head coach Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough following NWSL investigations into two separate incidents involving the employees, the team announced Tuesday.

Soubrier was investigated by the NWSL for administering medication containing codeine to players at the team’s semifinal playoff game against the San Diego Wave on October 22. Clough was investigated for planting an unwanted kiss on a player’s neck during the NWSL championship celebrations on 29 October. Both incidents were self-reported by the Thorns to the NWSL.

Allegations against both Soubrier and Clough were substantiated by NWSL investigators in violation of league policy. The league recommended a year’s unpaid leave for both Soubrier and Clough, but the club went ahead and terminated them.

“Portland Thorns FC remains committed to following all NWSL policies,” the Thorns said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The club reported to the league and cooperated fully with the league’s investigation into the allegations of misconduct by head coach Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough. After receiving the NWSL’s final investigation findings, the club has terminated the employment of both Soubrier and Clough. The health and safety of the players is our highest priority.”

Soubrier is the husband of Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn and was hired as the team’s head athletic trainer in 2019. The NWSL also found in its investigation that team doctor Breanne Brown provided Soubrier with a separate controlled substance at his request, but later felt uncomfortable with the decision, telling Soubrier, that it should not be administered. The League found that Dr. Brown did not violate the law or league policy.

In the case of the medication containing codeine, it was administered to two players, including one without informed consent, the league found.

“Soubrier was found to have administered the controlled substance to the players on multiple occasions without a prescription and medical supervision, in violation of federal and state laws and league policy,” the league’s investigative report said. “Furthermore, Soubrier administered the medication to one of the players without her informed consent.”

Clough joined the club as an assistant coach under Mark Parsons in 2016 and remained on staff throughout coach Rhian Wilkinson’s lone season with the Thorns. Allegations of bullying behavior by Clough towards players were also investigated by the NWSL, but unsubstantiated.

Tuesday’s firings are the latest chapter in a series of scandals that have plagued the Thorns over the past 16 months, dating back to the revelation in 2021 that former coach Paul Riley allegedly sexually harassed and coerced former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly. Since then, the Thorns have faced numerous investigations, fired managers Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson, won an NWSL championship and seen Rhian Wilkinson abruptly retire, all culminating in Merritt Paulson stepping down as CEO and later announcing that he would sell Thorns.

Just last month, Rhian Wilkinson – who led the Thorns to a title in her first season as coach – resigned after an NWSL investigation cleared her of an alleged relationship with player Emily Menges. The two had expressed mutual romantic feelings for each other via text message.

The Thorns were also fined $1 million by the NWSL for the club’s role in Riley’s alleged abuse of players.

Paulson has not provided an update on his efforts to sell the Thorns since announcing in December that the club would be sold.

— Ryan Clarke, rclarke@oregonian.com, Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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