Portland Thorns promote assistant Mike Norris to head coach

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland Thorns assistant Mike Norris has been promoted to head coach of the National Women's Soccer League club to replace Rhian Wilkinson, who resigned after revealing she had developed feelings for a player that she had never acted on.

Norris was an assistant on Wilkinson’s staff last season. He was also an assistant on coach Bev Priestman's staff for the gold medal-winning Canadian women's team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“I think if you ever see us on the field, that’s where I might be happiest and most comfortable, on the field and impacting the players, trying to grow them, trying to challenge them. And doing the same with myself," Norris said Monday. “But that’s really what puts a smile on my face and drives me every day.”

Several players posted their support for the hire on social media, including captain Christine Sinclair, who tweeted: “Cannot wait to get the season started! Great coach, great person! Let’s Go!”

Wilkinson resigned in early December, just five weeks after she led the Thorns to the NWSL championship in her first year as Portland's coach. Wilkinson said she was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing by the league and its players union after she 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 investigation revealed no evidence of abuse of power or coercion.

The past two seasons have been turbulent ones for the Thorns and the league as a whole. In September 2021, two former players accused former Portland coach Paul Riley of sexual harassment and coercion. Amid the fallout, two top Thorns executives were fired, owner Merritt Paulson stepped away from day-to-day team duties, and now the team is up for sale.

But the team excelled on the field. In addition to winning last year's championship, Thorns forward Sophia Smith was named NWSL Most Valuable Player as well as the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press