The Portland Thorns Finally Have New Owners

Superfan group the Rose City Riveters remains “cautiously optimistic” about the leadership change.

Thorns players celebrate a goal in the NWSL semifinal at Providence Park. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Thorns)

The beloved Thorns, racked by two years of scandal over sexual misconduct by a former coach and its cover-up by former owner Merritt Paulson, are trying to shake the shackles of disgrace. And perhaps they’ve taken the first step: They’re officially under new ownership.

A brother-and-sister duo hailing from Southern California, Lisa Bhathal Merage and Alex Bhathal, purchased the women’s soccer team from Paulson last year for $63 million. The siblings’ parents and grandparents made their money primarily through upscale swimwear and real estate investments. The family are also investors in the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

“Portland’s deep and long-standing love for the Thorns means the world to us, and we could not be more excited to take on the responsibility of guiding an incredible organization to even newer heights in the years ahead,” Bhathal Merage said at a January press conference in Portland.

As has been well documented by news outlets now, Paul Riley sexually harassed multiple athletes on the team while he was coach and, prior to joining the Thorns, had sexually harassed another player.

A report in October 2022 by the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s top regulating agency, found that Paulson knew about Riley’s harassment of players and yet concealed that knowledge. Investigators also reported that Paulson’s top executives stonewalled the federation’s 2022 inquiry. Paulson also owns the Portland Timbers but has given no indication that he intends to sell the men’s team.

Gabby Rosas, chair of the forceful group of Thorns superfans known as the Rose City Riveters, says the team always felt like they were “second fiddle” to the Timbers. Now, they’ve got owners solely focused on them.

“What was really insightful from the press conference.” Rosas says, “is that the players are feeling heard and listened to.”

The Bhathals’ ownership could revive the fandom that helped make the Portland Thorns such a success.

Rosas says fans are “cautiously optimistic” about the big promises made by the new owners.

“Now I really think it’s about dreaming big and hoping that some of those dreams come to fruition.”

See the rest of 2024′s Reasons to Love Portland here!

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