Before the April 30 Thorns FC match against the Kansas City Current, defender Becky Sauerbrunn, club CEO and owner Merritt Paulson and Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc met with 50 General Admission Annual Members to discussa wide range of topics about the club, on and off the field. Here are a few key quotes from the topics discussed that we wanted to share. These Open Houses are part of our list of club initiatives committing to create additional opportunities to hear from our supporters this season.
Editor's note, these quotes have been edited for written form and intent, or combined from multiple answers at the event.
Panelists: Becky Sauerbrunn, Merritt Paulson, Karina LeBlanc
Becky Sauerbrunn on the season ahead:
"A 10th season is a such a huge testament to the strides we’ve made in women’s soccer. This year, on the field, I’m most excited about winning. We were so close last year, we had the team, we had the momentum, and we just didn’t see it through in the semifinal, we were so close. Going through the preseason and Challenge Cup, we have tried a bunch of different formations which has been mentally tough. The things we’re doing now will pay dividends in the end because of the learning process and growth we’re going through together. I think this is a year we can win everything with Rhian. We’re going to do it the right way, with integrity, and I’m excited because I’m seeing this group buy into that, which will lead to success at the end of the year. Score prediction? I’m thinking it’s a 3-0 win today”
Merritt Paulson on PTFC for Peace being a reminder of what is possible for players, staff and supporters:
"The players want to feel that joy around playing soccer every time they play, and key to that is feeling good about the badge on their shirt. I’ve never seen Christine Sinclair so giddy in my life. She came up to me afterwards on a full-on sprint, she grabbed me by both of my shoulders and told me we must do this again next year and pick another cause and make this an annual tradition. Then Sebastián Blanco came up to me and said the same thing. This was not an easy event to pull off, we had to work with two different players unions, two coaches with training schedules and rest days. We even had Nike and adidas working together, it was a herculean lift, and our staff did an amazing job. For me, this was up there with the Atticus match, and all our Cup Finals. It reminded me of why we’re doing all of this, we all felt that."
WATCH | A condensed version of PTFC for Peace match with all the goals, saves and memorable moments
Karina LeBlanc on coming back and the plan for the team this season:
“I had stayed in touch throughout the years, but when this became a possibility, Merritt and I ended up having a very real, authentic, and raw conversation about it. I asked some hard questions and after that, I knew this was the place for me. I’ve always been a player and person driven by purpose and having a positive impact. This, to me, was about connecting on something far bigger than myself. I am excited about where we can go. There is a foundation and tradition here in this city that is so special, and no other can city can do what we do. We want to win, and we want to do it the right way. Our style of play will be attacking focused so that when you watch the games, you see the players having fun as well as the fans and supporters. When you come to a game and watch the team, you will feel what we feel every day in the locker room. A true joy for our sport. What we want to do is play a style of soccer that makes you proud, that makes the players proud, that makes the organization proud.”
Merritt Paulson on speaking to supporters who don’t feel proud of the club/badge and on putting action behind our initiatives
"I’m not going to tell you how to feel in any way shape or form. One of the many learnings from that past 7 months is that so many people have had their own experiences, particularly women. One of the most staggering statistics to me is that 70% of women have experienced some type of harassment or abuse. So, while we do believe facts need to matter as people process all of this, that doesn’t also mean you can’t feel the way that you described. The equity initiatives you referenced as “just an email” are very real. We’ve been involved in our Workplace Change sessions this week and I am a part of our Construct the Present training next week. We already have a list of 114 candidates for our VP of Social Impact position. We have a new Sr. Management hire on the compliance side, which will be finalizing this month. Those are real things that have happened. This meeting today was one of those initiatives announced, we want more transparency and more dialogue away from the toxicity of social media. We have heard from our supporters that more communication is better, so we’re going to keep doing these."
Karina LeBlanc on moving forward with supporters who remain upset and concerned:
"I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that the way we’re moving forward will be at the global standard. Have we made mistakes, absolutely, but I’m telling you that you’ll be proud of us, again. I can tell you that there has been a massive shift. In our Sr. Management meetings, it is continually about how we can be better. Every day it’s like, let’s work to continue to be heroes for this club. We need people to understand that this club does want to continue to set the bar. We talk to players, and they are like wow, the club, the facilities, the fans, wow, the Thorns! It’s going to need to be a collective effort by all of us, to move forward, together."
Merritt Paulson on the personal impact of the NWSL and MLS investigations:
"There are real victims here, and we’ve got to remember that and be cognizant of that and be focused on the change that we can control. Being accused of protecting abusers of women is an unbelievably difficult thing to hear and this has been the most tumultuous period of my life, for the last 6 months. I didn’t get involved with the Thorns for any reason other than elevate women’s sports and that’s still my motivation. We’ve got a decade’s worth of actions, on and off the field, that I am proud of. We’ve tried to do everything the right way, on and off the pitch in order to make a massive difference globally….as have all of you (supporters)."