MLS commissioner Don Garber says no league pressure on Merritt Paulson to sell Portland Timbers

Merritt Paulson may be under pressure from NWSL fans to sell the Portland Thorns, but MLS is not about to push him to sell the Portland Timbers.

Commissioner Don Garber, answering questions from reporters during his annual State of the League address ahead of MLS Cup, rejected the possibility that MLS could look into urging Paulson to sell his majority stake in the Timbers.

“We at this time don’t see any reason at all for Merritt to sell the Timbers,” said Garber when asked directly about whether the findings of the Yates investigation into misconduct in the NWSL had made MLS reconsider Paulson’s viability as an owner.

Supporters in Portland have been calling on Paulson’s Peregrine Sports, the corporate entity that actually holds his shares of the two clubs, to sell for months. The Yates investigation revealed that on Paulson’s watch, club employees gave positive recommendations for former coach Paul Riley when asked about his past by the North Carolina Courage. The Yates report also stated that Portland had “interfered with our access to relevant witnesses and raised specious legal arguments in an attempt to impede our use of relevant documents.”.

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The Timbers side of the organization also drew intense criticism for its handling of the domestic abuse allegations against former player Andy Polo, which included re-signing him despite knowing about the charges against him. In that matter, MLS fined Portland for failing to inform the league of the accusations in an expedient fashion.

Last month, Paulson stepped down as the CEO of both the Timbers and Thorns, and left the door open to possibly selling his stakes in the clubs. The organization also fired Gavin Wilkinson and Mike Golub — the presidents of soccer operations and business operations, respectively — in the aftermath of the Yates investigation.

MORE:Merritt Paulson’s power lies with Portland Timbers, Thorns. Now, he’s being pressured to sell.

Garber, however, gave a solid endorsement of Paulson’s moves since the news began to break in 2021, indicating that from MLS’s perspective, there is no need to pursue an enforced ownership change.

“Obviously, Merritt has very publicly acknowledged the mistakes that he and the organization has made. You know, he’s taken responsibility for those decisions that he’s made,” said Garber. “I think that the steps that he’s made, in terms of stepping aside and bringing in a new CEO, and the termination of two long-term employees — which we supported — were steps in the right direction. So, there was nothing that came out in the report that would have us think any differently from what I just stated there.”.

That’s a stark contrast with other powerful voices. Multiple sponsors announced plans to either reconsider their financial pacts with Portland, or in the case of Alaska Airlines, redirect a quarter’s worth of sponsorship to the NWSLPA’s Support the Players Emergency Trust.

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The question of whether Paulson should sell the Thorns was posed at last month’s Oregon gubernatorial debate, and all three participants answered in the affirmative.