Like sand through the hourglass…

Nobody else old enough to remember the old Days of Our Lives?

Well, you don’t need to now; we’ve got a live-action The Young and the Restless Thorns playing down at 18th and Morrison.

Which one is Merritt? Which is Menges? Which is RW? Gah, who knows…

First, Merritt Paulson announces that he’s selling just the Thorns.

Then Rhian Wilkinson announces she’s resigning as head coach.


I still want to talk 2022 players, but thought we might take a moment to vent, mourn, speculate, or just discuss, the bombs that have been dropping all over the club this past week.


The Sale.

Frankly, this had to happen.

Picture the scene. The fans and the team gather at the north end of the old Shed down at 18th and Morrison to celebrate the 2022 Championship.

Music plays, dances are danced, speeches are made.

Then Merritt Paulson steps to the mike.

Can you imagine the riot?

“Owner gets booed offstage, pelted with expensive beers, at his own team celebration”?

Yeahno. That’s not workable. The guy had to dump the club for what he can get for it.

Mind you, I’d just as soon he sold them both; they work better as a bundle. But Don Garber has come down hard for MP, and with that and the high bar for the owners to force a sale? Was never going to happen short of a complete and total fan revolt, and THAT’s not going to happen.

That said, my thoughts are, in no particular order:

  1. There’s a not-insignificant danger that the new owner could be worse. Yes, worse. Rememeber, my EPL team is now owned by fucking Prince Bonesaw. So, yes, worse. Possibly
  2. The stadium lease is not a trivial obstacle. Right now Peregrine is, in effect, the tenant. The one announced potential buyer – the group led by Melanie Strong has said flatly that they don’t want to sublet from Peregrine.
  3. I tend to agree just on the ground that if he’s too untrustworthy to run the team Paulson isn’t trustworthy enough to be the landlord, either.
  4. That said…the details, things like sponsorships, concessions, rents and revenues…that could all be difficult to work out.
  5. If they can’t be worked out…what then? Playing at Merlo or Hillsboro is not really an option.
  6. Part of that is the City of Portland willing to play hardball with Paulson, and – as RCTEyeDee replied when I suggested that over at Stumptown – “If the City of Portland plays hardball using its lease of PP as a stick to beat ownership with, they will be the first city ever to do so in the long and inglorious history of rich people extorting money from cities for their sports team under the false promise of neighborhood economic development.”
  7. Sigh. That’s very true.

So I’m…concerned, but resigned. I can see a lot of pitfalls here. I can see the team folding (yes, not likely, but weirder collapses have happened…).

I could see the team moving. I could see the new ownership group struggling to find resources and a new venue if Paulson won’t budge on the lease.

But…given the priors, I don’t see how he could have stayed. He’s just burned too many damn bridges.

One last thing; the Paulson valedictions Emily Menges, Christine Sinclair, and Bella Bixby wrote publicly.

Was that a good idea? Given what the guy has done?


Your dad is a bank robber and thief. You still love your dad…but you keep that between you and your dad. Writing public letters praising your dad is kinda rude to the guy at the bank he shot (or in this case, the players Riley screwed over and Paulson lied to and about for years…)


Is is utterly inhumane and impossible to believe that someone who has had a long and happy relationship with someone to refuse to give up being pals with him because of something he did to someone else? Is there no other examples in human history of people clinging to and even loving some of humanity’s greatest monsters? Mao? Stalin? Hitler? Surely as bad as he’s been Paulson hasn’t killed millions.

So I get why those players did what they did.

I still think it was a bad idea, and if I’d been one of their friends I’d have told them that; they’re in a business that has crucial interests in good public relations and even disregarding the moral questions that’s bad PR.

As Tallyrand is supposed to have said; it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.

Well, they’ve been hammered for it, so there’s that.

Which brings us to “the other thing”, the other mistake;

L’Affaire Wilkinson

This is the genesis of the title of this post. It’s pure Thorns Soap Opera.

The sad part? It should have been a very sweet little story.

Former teammates, swept apart by miles and years, are re-united amid the turbulence of a championship season while one struggles with leadership and the other with injury.

In the midst of all this they find their love.

(Okay, we don’t know what they found. But, hey, it’s Lifetime; let’s call it love to be nice…)

Only…there’s one tiny brutal insoluble problem.

One is the boss of the other.

So because of that (and the priors) there’s a whole bunch of layers here.
Top layer: There are two people on the staff who become intimate late in the season.
Below that: One is the other’s (and her teammates’) coach.
Next one down: The team they play for has been rocked by scandal repeatedly, and has a very shaky personnel management reputation – the well-founded suspicion is that the whole organization has a serious HR problem.
Here’s another: The coach is big pals with the GM, and with the team’s biggest name. Meanwhile the coach’s management of that big name has been very peculiar through the season, and the GM has been effusive in her public affection for that big name even though the big name has not been having a very good season.
Even further down: So when a group of players – worried about this new personnel situation – goes to the GM with their worries, the GM dimes them off to the coach.
Yet deeper down: When the coach and the player are confronted about their connection they go to the club, and the league, and confess – and say that everything’s still jake. The league and the player’s association “investigate” and say “yep, it’s all good”.
But below that: Is the lingering suspicion after the multiple “investigations” that failed to report or correct LOTS of bad shit going on. The other players flat-out don’t buy that there’s no problem.
So finally: The group of players goes to the coach and asks for her pink slip. She hands in her staff badge and is gone.

This is all very bad and sad.

Sad because, again, it should have been a sweet little Lifetime movie, but because of the coach-player relationship it end up being Romeo and Juliet where everyone dies at the end.

Bad because there’s a fucking reason every organization everywhere has rules about supervisors dating their staff.

It’s a no. Hard no. Full stop. Just don’t.

I can’t read the Meg Linehan interview with Menges and Wilkinson because it’s behind the Athletic paywall. But the excerpts I’ve read suggest that neither one gets it. They emphasize that their relationship never really blossomed and, besides, it in no way impacted their team…which is just impossible.

Even if both were as pure as saints and chaste as anchoresses there’s no way their teammates could be confident that the judgement of their coach – their boss – wouldn’t be swayed by that intimacy.

Remember – buried among those layers up there was Wilkinson’s handling of Sinclair this season.

Sinc is no longer an effective 90-minute player. Spot-starter? Sub? Sure (against teams that lack pace…). Regular starter? No; everyone not RW has seen and remarked at how much pace Sinc has lost and how difficult it is for her to impact matches anymore. Yet she played, on and on, costing her team and her teammates.

If RW is going to be affected so much by her friendship for her friend, how much more might she be irrational about someone she loves? How could Kelli Hubly, or Becky Sauerbrunn, or anyone else, feel confident running up against the two of them.

Yeah. I’d be nervous as a cat about whether my coach could be objective if I was one of them. I wouldn’t have believed the league and PA that everything was on the up-and-up.

The trust is gone. There’s a reason that trust is gone. And everyone knows why.

And that should have been in the front of both RW’s and Menges’ thoughts before they stepped over that line. That it wasn’t makes me question both 1) their judgement and 2) the HR climate at Peregrine even if we had no knowledge of the priors…

I’m not sure whether KK, Sinclair, and Menges have a way forward from this.

We’ll have to see what happens. But, at the very least, one thing that the new owners will have to do is clean house. There’s obviously some very big HR/personal behavior failings running all the way through this organization. The new head coach and GM – whoever they are, but they have got to be completely untainted-by-prior-Thorns-bodies – have to be new brooms, as well. If this team is to move forward, this shit has got to stop.

And we don’t know how or when – or, even, at this point whether – it will.

I dunno about you, but I got nothing more.

So next week we’re going to return to talking about soccer.

Update 12/7: Couple of last things before we move on.

First, as we lour in doom and gloom over L’affaire Mengison, consider Chicago; that team is blowing up like a Death instead of a Red Star. I’ll be the first to say that I wouldn’t want aging-out players like Colaprico, but to watch them hit the lifeboats…wow.

Second…let’s take a deep breath for a moment. For all the drama the Wilkinson-Menges business is what it is; a stupid decision by (otherwise seemingly-sensible) people who are, as all field-level members of the club are, replaceable. Liked? Even loved? Sure! But players come and go and so do coaches. The thing now is to hitch up our collective trousers and move forward.

Over at Stumptown longtime friend-of-the-blog ABell4 wrote: “…like WHO would want to come here?” (to coach the Thorns) which seems perfectly epigrammatic of how a lot of this discussion has gone since the whole business exploded into view.

I thought about that for a bit, and replied, and I think the reply is worth quoting at length, because it’s still how I feel about all this:

Who? Anyone who wants to coach in front of 15,000, not 5,000. Anyone who wants to win renown for taking a storied but troubled club and turn it around. Ego? Much? For a professional manager? Y’think..?

No, the problem is getting the sale done ASAP, and bringing in a solid new ownership group.

The more of this shit I see the more I think that the problem is that there are deep, ruinous cracks – HR cracks, “old-pal-network” cracks, casual-grab-ass-approach-to-personal-and-professional-relationships cracks – in the foundation of the Peregrine organization. Probably related to who Paulson is, and his old pal Gavin. And that this is where those foundations need to be smashed down and new ones, solid ones based on professional and personal probity, built in their place.

And all that starts – as the original cracked foundations did – at the top.

So coach? Enh. We’ll find out. The draft? Enh. Meh class and shit picks. A half-decent interim FO will muddle through.

Get that ownership group here. Right. Soon. And start rebuilding.

So that’s still my hill to die on. We need new owners. GOOD owners. Owners with a solid ethical and commercial vision, who can built a new foundation for this club.

And the sooner the better.

Now let’s talk about midfielders.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

9 thoughts on “Like sand through the hourglass…

  1. My “feeling” (for what ever it’s worth) is the cost of the thorns is inflated, as it includes use of PP. Hopefully, that is being worked out behind the scenes. While MP has made some dick moves, I truly believe he loves the thorns and will make the thorns sustainable before he hands it over. Rich people are all about legacy.

    1. I don’t think he’d consciously screw the club. But:
      1) he’s a selfish rich kid, and selfish rich kids don’t saty rich by doing anyone any favors, and
      2) if he’s not trustworthy enough to run the club, he’s not trustworthy enough to be its landlord.
      So while I don’t THINK he’d be a gratuitous dick, I don’t trust him to NOT be, especially if there’s a buck to be made.

      I tend to agree that the number I’m hearing ($60M) seems pretty high. OLR went for, what, about $35M, and Seattle has the Clink and the potential to draw 60-70K.

      The “cost” of these clubs, though, are really fictions until we see the books and its in the interests of the owners to make sure we never do.

      1. My take is that the $60 million number is from the Strong camp, and would be based on having an independent deal with the city for stadium use (and the suggested sharing of a 1/3 of the staff). I recall reading Paulson floating something in the $30 million to $50 million range. I suspect pricing varies based on how much control Peregrine maintains vs how many details are contractually set up front as part of the purchase.

      2. Yeah, that guy is completely not self aware, and also way too emotional. He’s going to screw the club whether it’s intentional or not.

    2. And I think the lease on the Civic is a must-have. This club begins to flail if it has to move to Hillsboro or some even worse venue. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to include it as part of the price.

      But how much? THAT depends on Paulson and how he negotiates with the new owners and the City.

  2. Great summary John. I have been following the comments on STF and you have covered just about everything really well. I am not a well informed fan, just a fan and this all makes me feel sick. Mistakes, human mistakes, hubris mistakes, rookie mistakes, dumb mistakes etc. etc. it is so sad and I wonder what the young players must be thinking. For some like Smith, I couldn’t blame her if she jumps over to Europe, I sure hope not, it looks like Janine Beckie may do just that.
    I won’t give up on the Thorns, but I will say for some players I have lost some respect.
    I have always admired Emily Menges, but I wonder how she can remain with this team. I am one of a minority that thought RW was a pretty good coach, but this episode could be the end for her as a coach. Men have made worse mistakes and got other jobs (Holly and Riley for example), but Rhian is a female. Will she be given another chance? I hope so. Menges as noted above might be on her way to the Spirit, so all is not lost for her. Karina has made allot of mistakes as a GM, but I am not sure she realizes that. She is a good person, but the GM position looks like it was not something she was cut out for. As for Merritt Paulson, it looks like he will hang on to the Timbers and hopefully he doesn’t ruin the Thorns when they split the sheets. The longer this “train wreck in progress” goes on; the worse 2023 looks. Ughh!

    1. The whole point of having things like “no fraternization” rules is that you KNOW people will make those human mistakes, and having rules in place helps 1) guide them away from the mistakes if possible, and 2) make clear the results if they make them. I keep coming back to how frequent this stuff seems to be here (and in other organizations, too, I admit…) and that’s why I keep coming back to the conclusion that there’s a real organization problem. The new ownership needs to make that a priority from day one.

      I love Menges, too, but I can’t help but think there’s no way she can stay here if this group does, too. I don’t know if she has free agent value with her history of injury.

      I think the prospects for ’23 depend a LOT on 1) getting the new ownership in as soon as possible, and 2) getting the squad to buy in to the new owners and FO. If that happens we have until spring – this year’s draft is pretty barren, and our picks are shit, anyway. So there’s some breathing room – IF the sale goes quickly and the new owners hit the ground ready to fight.

      We’ll see.

  3. This all just makes me feel so sad. It’s like the year we won the championship, but lost everything along the way. It’s going to take some very conscious recovery and rebuilding.

    1. What hurts me hardest is Menges. Goddamn it, I have your name on my jersey, woman! You are – or were – my favorite Thorn (for the longest time and at least until Hina-san arrived…). How could you BE SO STUPID?

      Yeah, yeah, the heart wants…still. FUCK! It’s really hard to not throw up your hands.

      Like I keep saying; I think quick sale is key, and a good incoming owner group. Forget the coach; there’s no rush. This year’s draft is kinda meh and our picks are shit. The big thing is to get the existing squad onboard with the new owners. Appoint a caretaker coach and start working towards the new season.

      And here’s the thing; I’ve been a Newcastle supporter for decades, and you want “lost everything”? Fuckadoodledoo. Years and years of mediocre crap, relegation every other season, a complete asshole of an owner, and then, after years of fan protests and anger, a sale!

      To Prince Goddamn Bonesaw and the Saudi oil sheiks!!!!

      So, yeah. We’ve been really, really lucky here for many years (well, we had the fucked-up Riley stuff, but we didn’t know it…). But there were bad, serious cracks in the foundation. We’re seeing them now, in all their ugliness.

      The important thing now is to stop trying to plaster over the cracks. The old foundation NEEDS to be smashed, and a new, solid one built.


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