Karina LeBlanc has signed on as the new general manager of the Portland Thorns. The appointment comes after a tumultuous week for the club, with Paul Riley being fired last Thursday.
The Portland Thorns have failed to find a new coach after Paul Riley left the team. Now they’ve turned their attention towards Karina LeBlanc, who’s been assistant general manager since 2017, as the club seeks to move forward with its next head coach.
Karina LeBlanc, the head of women’s soccer for CONCACAF and a former goalkeeper for the Portland Thorns, has been appointed the team’s new general manager, succeeding Gavin Wilkinson. The Thorns put him on administrative leave after charges of sexual harassment and coercion leveled against former coach Paul Riley.
LeBlanc will resign from CONCACAF to concentrate on her new post as general manager.
She told The Associated Press that she talked with the players at the club and that she thought she could help.
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“Based on their [the club’s] reaction, I thought that this was the proper step,” she added. “I believe it’s time that everyone recognizes that this is a period in time when we stop, learn, realize what we can do better, and then connect and rise.”
“That’s how I’m looking at it right now. It’s time for all of us to come together and rise. And I get to do that because I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table and play for the club, and now that I’ve spent so many years in CONCACAF and done so many things on a global level, I can see the wider picture.”
The National Women’s Soccer League club put Wilkinson on administrative leave last month after two former NWSL players went public with their complaints against Riley.
Riley coached the Thorns for two seasons in 2014 and 2015, but he was fired after a club inquiry after a player spoke out. The investigation’s specifics, however, were kept under wraps, and Riley joined the club that would later become the North Carolina Courage.
After a published investigation regarding claims that spanned his service with both clubs, he was sacked from the Courage in late September.
In the wake of the controversy, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. The claims are being investigated independently by the NWSL and US Soccer.
Karina LeBlanc has a lot of expertise in the field of women’s soccer. Getty Images/Hannah Peters/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/FIFA/
Wilkinson’s dismissal was also demanded by Thorns players. Shortly after, management confirmed that he had been put on administrative leave from all Thorns-related tasks, but not from the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. Wilkinson will remain the Timbers’ general manager.
LeBlanc was the Thorns’ goalkeeper during the team’s debut NWSL championship season in 2013. She went on to play with the Chicago Red Stars for two seasons.
“I came back because it’s an opportunity for me,” she said. “I’ll never forget my time as a member of this group. I’ll never forget how welcomed I felt by the community. I’ll never forget how it felt to put on the shirt and feel the crest on my chest. I’ll never forget the times with my teammates that few people know about. And it was one of those situations where I was simply like, ‘You know what?’ when I was traded away. I’m going to return.’”
Between 1998 and 2015, LeBlanc made 110 appearances for the Canadian national team. She has been a member of CONCACAF since 2018.
This season, the Thorns earned the NWSL Shield for having the best regular-season record in the league. The Portland Trail Blazers have a first-round bye in the playoffs, which begin this weekend.
“Her worldwide soccer network has ideally positioned her to manage the Thorns, and it’s hard to imagine somebody with a more inherent leadership aptitude and unique combination of abilities than Karina,” said Thorns owner Merritt Paulson.