Portland Thorns fire head athletic trainer, assistant coach following NWSL investigations into misconduct

The Portland Thorns have fired head athletic trainer Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough following an NWSL investigation into two separate incidents involving staff members, the team announced Tuesday.

Soubrier was investigated by the NWSL for administering medication containing codeine to players during the team’s semifinal playoff game against the San Diego Wave on Oct. 22. Clough was investigated for planting an unwanted kiss on a player’s neck during the NWSL championship celebration on Oct. 29. Both incidents were self-reported by the Thorns to the NWSL.

The allegations against Soubrier and Clough were proven by NWSL investigators to be in violation of league policy. The league recommended a year of unpaid leave for Soubrier and Clough, but the club went further and terminated them.

“Portland Thorns FC remains committed to complying with all NWSL policies,” Thorns said in a statement provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The club reported to the league and cooperated fully with the league’s investigation into the alleged misconduct of head athletics coach Pierre Soubrier and assistant coach Sophie Clough. After receiving the findings of the NWSL’s final investigation, the club terminated the employment of Soubrier and Clough. The health and safety of the players is our priority.”

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Soubrier is the husband of Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn and was hired as the team’s head athletic trainer in 2019. The NWSL also found in its investigation that team doctor Breanne Brown gave Soubrier a separate controlled substance at her request, but later felt uncomfortable with the decision and told Soubrier it should not be administered. The league found Dr. Brown did not violate the law or league policy.

In the case of medication containing codeine, it was given to two players including one without informed consent, the league found.

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“Soubrier was found to have administered controlled substances to players multiple times without a physician’s prescription and supervision in violation of federal and state law and league policy,” the league’s investigative report read. “Furthermore, Soubrier gave medication to one of the players without his consent.”

Clough joined the club as assistant coach under Mark Parsons in 2016 and remained on staff through coach Rhian Wilkinson’s lone season with the Thorns. Allegations of bullying behavior by Clough towards players were also investigated by the NWSL but found to be unfounded.

Tuesday’s sacking is the latest chapter in a series of scandals that have plagued The Thorns over the past 16 months, since revelations in 2021 that former coach Paul Riley allegedly sexually harassed and coerced former players Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly. Since then, the Thorns have faced numerous investigations, fired executives Mike Golub and Gavin Wilkinson, won the NWSL championship and seen Rhian Wilkinson’s sudden resignation, all culminating in Merritt Paulson stepping down as CEO and later announcing that he would sell the Thorns.

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Just last month, Rhian Wilkinson – who led the Thorns to the title in her first season as coach – resigned after an NWSL investigation cleared her of an alleged affair with player Emily Menges. The two have expressed romantic feelings for each other through text messages.

The Thorns were also fined $1 million by the NWSL for the club’s role in Riley’s alleged player abuse.

Paulson has not provided an update on his efforts to sell the Thorns since announcing in December that the club would be for sale.

— Ryan Clarke, [email protected], Twitter: @RyanTClarke


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