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Mike Norris landed in B.C. in 2005, looking to travel across Canada as part of a yearlong trip. The Newcastle, England native never made it past Vancouver.

Norris went on to build his coaching career with UBC, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer before joining the Portland Thorns last January as an assistant to head coach Rhian Wilkinson.

On Monday, the 43-year-old was elevated to head coach of the defending NWSL champion Thorns, filling the void left when Wilkinson, a former Canadian international, resigned Dec. 2.

“The players love him. They’ve bought into him. … His character is phenomenal,” said Portland GM Karina LeBlanc, a former Canadian goalkeeper who called Norris a “tactical genius.”

Norris joined Wilkinson’s staff last January after eight years as a coach with Canada Soccer, where most recently he served as the set play and goalkeeper coach for the senior women’s team, helping it to gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Wilkinson resigned after an investigation into a relationship with one of her players. While she was cleared of any wrongdoing, Wilkinson says she agreed to leave her post at the behest of Thorns players.

Christine Sinclair, who captains both Portland and Canada, was one of the Thorns players who took to social media to welcome Norris’s appointment.

“Cannot wait to get the season started! Great coach, great person! Let’s go!” she wrote.

“A great coach, incredibly knowledgeable and passionate! But an even better human. Looking forward to Mike in this role!” added Thorns forward Janine Beckie, a fellow Canadian.

Norris’s appointment came the same day that the NWSL announced sanctions arising from a joint independent investigation initiated by the league and NWSL Players Association into “complaints of discrimination, harassment, abuse (physical, emotional or sexual) and retaliation” within the league.

That includes a US$1-million penalty for Portland, one of six NWSL clubs facing fines arising from the probe.

Portland owner Merritt Paulson, who is in the process of selling the Thorns, had previously pledged that amount to support the establishment of an NWSL player safety office. Former Portland coach Paul Riley was one of four former managers handed a lifetime ban by the league.

Norris, who is married with two daughters, becomes the fifth head coach in Thorns history.

He said he never planned to end up in Canada, but met his future wife in Vancouver and never left.

Norris served as an assistant coach with the Canadian senior women’s team from 2019 to 2021. Before that, he served as an assistant coach with the women’s under-17 team and goalkeeping coach and interim head coach with the under-20 side.

He also served as the head goalkeeping coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps youth residency program and was goalkeeping coach with the UBC women’s team.

The 40-year-old Wilkinson, from Baie d’Urfe, Que., won 181 caps for Canada during a senior career that stretched from 2003 to 2017 and won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

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