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Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson won't attend NWSL Championship

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Recent abuse claims raise questions about Portland's club leadership (1:36)

Sebastian Salazar is heavily critical of Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson's handling of abuse claims at the organization. (1:36)

Merritt Paulson, the owner of the National Women's Soccer League's (NWSL) Portland Thorns and Major League Soccer's (MLS) Portland Timbers, will not travel to Washington, D.C., for Saturday's NWSL Championship between the Thorns and the Kansas City Current, the team announced in a statement.

Paulson has been under pressure to sell both teams, and resigned as CEO of both the Thorns and the Timbers on Oct. 11 following the publication of the Yates Report, which found systemic sexual and emotional abuse of players in the NWSL.

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The report detailed multiple instances of managers engaging in abuse of players and found that some executives ignored complaints made by players, or hid the reasons for a coach being fired. This included allegations against former Thorns manager Paul Riley, as well as Paulson's role in hiding the reason for Riley's firing, which allowed the coach to continue working in the NWSL.

"Merritt is elated the Portland Thorns are playing in another NWSL Championship game," the statement read. "Given the recent changes implemented at the organization [Paulson] will watch the game on CBS remotely."

The statement added that interim CEO Heather Davis, interim COO Sarah Keane and GM Karina LeBlanc will represent the ownership in Washington "when the Thorns hopefully win their third league title in 10 years."

The statement continued: "As Merritt shared with the team and organization, he is committed to ensuring the long-term health and success of the Portland Thorns."

It is not known if Paulson was present for Sunday's 2-1 semifinal victory over the San Diego Wave. Paulson wasn't seen in his suite, and when ESPN asked multiple Thorns staffers if he was present, each said they didn't know.

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Riley was fired by the Thorns for cause in 2015 following a complaint filed by former Thorns player Mana Shim alleging sexual harassment and coercion.

Throughout the scandal Paulson has sought to position his own missteps as a single mistake in 2015 where the club kept the real reason for Riley's exit hidden from the public, instead claiming that Riley's contract wasn't renewed for on-field reasons.

In a letter announcing he'd step down as CEO, Paulson wrote that he vowed to "make sure what happened in 2015 never happens again," adding that mistakes included "not being publicly transparent about Paul Riley's termination."

But the Yates report cites Paulson as having received player complaints alleging Riley was abusive and ignoring them in 2014, the year before Shim's complaint resulted in Riley's termination.

Records obtained by Yates also show that Paulson continued to keep the manner of Riley's exit from other team owners and downplayed Shim's allegations as late as 2019, instead expressing support for Riley, which allowed the coach to stay employed in the NWSL. Paulson is also accused of making inappropriate comments to players.

With some fans demanding that Paulson sell both teams, and with sponsors such as Alaska Airlines redirecting sponsorship dollars away from the organization, Paulson fired two top executives -- president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson and president of business Mike Golub -- before resigning as CEO.