There’s breaking news already! The Thorns have a new head coach and the NWSL announces discipline
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Jan. 9, 2022
Happy Soccer Monday! Lots of stuff going on today and this week so I’ll try to get to all of it.
First off: The NWSL has announced disciplinary action against several individuals and teams in response to an investigation into alleged abuse and misconduct in the league. Former North Carolina Coach Paul Riley, former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames, former Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke and former Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly were all permanently banned from coaching in the league.
Other actions: former Utah Royals coach Craig Harrington and former Gotham general manager Alyse LaHue were suspended from working in the NWSL for two years, until Jan. 9, 2025.
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A number of other individuals will be allowed to return to positions in the NWSL on certain conditions, including acknowledging misconduct, participating in training and committing to appropriate behavior. They included former Reign coach Farid Benstiti, former Houston Dash coaches Vera Pauw and James Clarkson, former Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell and assistants Sam Greene and Aline Reis.
Several teams were also fined: The Chicago Red Stars fine is $1.5 million, the Portland Thorns at $1 million, Racing Louisville $200,000 and the North Carolina Courage $100,000. The Reign and Gotham were each fined $50,000.
Here’s the statement from the NWSLPA:
Also Monday, Mike Norris was officially named the Portland Thorns’ new head coach. Norris was an assistant on Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson’s staff last season. He was also an assistant to Bev Priestman on the Canadian national team for its gold-medal-winning run at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Thorns were left looking for a coach after Wilkinson resigned after revealing she had feelings for a player and as a result felt that she lost the confidence of her team. She and the player did not act on the attraction.
Wilkinson self-reported the matter and the NWSL cleared her wrongdoing. She lasted just one season with the Thorns, but won the league title with the team.
The Thorns have had a turbulent (to say the least) couple of years since Meg Linehan’s revelations in The Athletic about former coach Paul Riley. Two top team executives are gone, owner Merritt Paulson pulled back from day-to-day team duties, and now the Thorns are up for sale.
Not going to lie, it’s all been hard to watch. While I’m certainly not a “fan” in the traditional sense, I’ve covered the team since its first season in 2013. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the organization, some of whom are friends. I genuinely like all of the players.
That said, I believe the reckoning for the Thorns, and indeed all of women’s soccer, is important for the evolution of the sport. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of upheaval but I honestly trust we’re on a more productive path.
But it’s certainly not all gloom and doom for Portland. Forward Sophia Smith won U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year award this past week. I wrote about it for The AP.
Also of note: Alyssa Thompson has de-committed from Stanford and appears to be headed for Angel City FC. I wrote about the big three-team trade that has set up ACFC’s likely move with the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft. Thompson registered for the draft on Friday.
And last but not least, Vlatko Andonovski announced his 24-player roster for the New Zealand trip. Lynn Williams is back, but Sophia Smith and Megan Rapinoe are staying home to nurse injuries. Still no Tobin Heath. Hmm.
Finally, on a personal note: Qatar was interesting. From the start, women had to get in a separate security line to enter the media center, and in at least one instance, a pair of men were allowed into a press conference ahead of me, even though I was next in line.
I went to a post-game press conference following one match and I was the only woman reporter there, aside from the FIFA moderator and a handful of World Cup volunteers. So that was sobering.
On the cool side, I got to see Messi score (against Mexico), I made friends with a stray cat I named Harold, and I got to see a camel beauty contest.
I had already headed home (I was only there for the group stage) when Grant Wahl tragically passed away. It’s impossible to overstate what he meant to soccer in the United States, and women’s soccer in particular. He will be missed.
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Five at The IX: Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc and Mike Norris
LeBlanc and Norris spoke via Zoom with reporters today. Here’s a snippet of what they said:
LeBlanc: I think today is a very exciting day for us at the Thorns because we get to announce the the great Mike Norris as our new head coach. Mike, his history speaks for itself in being able to do lead success. Obviously coming off the Olympic gold medal and our reigning champions last year. He led a lot of things on the field. He was in charge of our our scouting for other teams, did a lot in game day prep. The players loved him, they bought into him. I think even today we saw some Tweets from some of the players which is a testament that we have their buy in, obviously as a club, he has our absolute buy-in, his character is phenomenal. I’m sure all of you will get to see that. Some of you may need translation when Mike starts speaking with his Newcastle accent which we’re always teasing him about. He loves food. He’s a foodie. If you want to get an in with Mike bring some food into the press conferences but most importantly, he’s well qualified for this job. It is an absolute honor and excitement to introduce Mike Norris to all of you and Mike take it away.
Norris: Thanks, Karina. I think I’d like to open just to say, obviously a huge honor. Very grateful to be named the head coach of the Portland Thorns. Obviously a club with great history of success, terrific fan base, which I got to experience last year. So I’m just really proud and excited by the challenge ahead and to get started.
Question: Karina, can you talk about the process?
LeBlanc: Yes. We went through a really good process, obviously I spoke to some agents who have a lot of head coaches in the business and we went through the process of looking at who has applied previously. I spoke with several people but I think the big thing that stood out for us is thinking of player safety, and getting that continuity from winning the championship last year. Mike was loved by the players, loved by the club. I think it was a perfect transition to have Mike come in and lead and obviously we had a hard conversation just before this and said Mike, is this what you want, and I think it’s a testament to his character that he asked if he had the players buy in, the staff buy in and everything, and everybody was on board. And I think over the year you’ll see why Mike is more than credible for this, why he’s the perfect person to lead us. But we went through different processes but in the end it was a no brainer for us and you guys will see that.
Question: Mike how much do you enjoy Portland and how much do you enjoy coaching, especially coaching the players here?
Norris: I think, obviously you may know I’ve spent the last 15-16 years in Vancouver, Canada. So I think Pacific Northwest from a climate perspective really suits me for what I like. Yeah, I think the the greenery and Portland as a city is fantastic. So I’ve enjoyed the year that I’ve had so far. In terms of how much I enjoy coaching, I think if you ever see us on the field, that’s where I might be happiest and most comfortable, is on the field and impacting the players, trying to grow them, trying to challenge them. And doing the same with myself. But that’s really what puts a smile on my face and drives me every day. And that’s really the most important, enjoyable part of the job, which I’m looking forward to continue to do.
Question: How important was it to have so many players publicly announcing their support of the move:
Norris: It’s huge. I mean, Karina touched on it. I think through this process, hat was one of the big things I said to Karina and the club `Look, if this is not what the players want, put I’ll put my sort of desires to the side and move on if that’s what’s needed. So it means a lot. I think it’s speaks to the connection I think I built last year and the trust, in terms of how I worked with the players, obviously some came along a bit quicker. Some it takes a bit more time. But yeah, it means a lot, obviously. I think we all have a little bit of impostor syndrome at times, and to get that public support, that means a lot. But I just think internally getting those messages supporters has been huge.
LeBlanc: When we kind of spoke to some of the players about it. One response from a player was, he’s not only made me a better player, but he’s made me a better person. And I think it’s important to highlight the character that Mike brings. I’ve said he lead scouting, there’s history now attained with the league and being a coach, but it’s so important. We also highlight the care for the human being that he is, and that quote right there probably is an anecdote for the players. I haven’t been as much on Twitter today, but I heard that some of the players actually said basically that he’s an amazing coach, but also an amazing person.
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