A little more than two years ago Mark Parsons was coaching in almost complete anonymity with the Washington Spirit Reserves. On Monday, he was named to the highest-profile job in women’s club soccer as the new field boss of Portland Thorns FC.
“I think the stature of the Thorns because of what they have done on and off the field the last three seasons I don’t know that there is any other women’s club in the world that can come near that,” Parsons said on a conference call introducing him. “In regards to the pressure, I’m going to be under pressure of course from all angles. But I put myself under more pressure than any place I’ve ever been. The standards I hold for myself, and players who were with me before they witnessed that every single day, there’s not a day that I don’t give 100 percent.”
Parsons already has a track record in NWSL. He took over a Washington Spirit side that was teetering on complete disaster halfway through the 2013 season. He retooled the roster and the attitude around the club and led them into the playoffs each of the last two seasons. Parsons was chugging along comfortably as that club’s coach and general manager until receiving a recent call from Gavin Wilkinson.
“Once we knew we were going to make a change in staffing with the Thorns we reached out to many individuals,” said the Thorns general manager who first had to secure permission from the Spirit to contact Parsons. “We looked at Mark and what he had achieved at Washington with limited resources. We spoke to several of his peers and decided to take this direction—one that we’re excited about.”
Parsons said he took a day before agreeing to interview for the Thorns job (the Spirit did not ask for compensation.) “The excitement to come to an organization like the Thorns is huge. I’ve had huge respect competing against them.”
Wilkinson said that Parsons’ track record of success in the league and the pair’s similar vision to how soccer should be played, helped make him the top candidate for the post.
“We wanted to move the game forward,” Wilkinson said. “We’re very excited about Mark, his aspirations within the game, what he has achieved with the resources that he has had, the way he interviewed with this club. The fact is he is very hungry to be successful within NWSL and has aspirations for bigger and greater things if that’s possible.
“We interviewed several overseas candidates and came to the conclusion very quickly that having experience in NWSL was of paramount importance not only short term but long term. It is important for the players within the league to know who they’re playing for and for the coach to actually know the environment. And also the college infrastructure—having an appreciation for that and some of the challenges we face.”
Wilkinson’s college comments appear to indicate a philosophical split from the Paul Riley regime. The outgoing coach recently said that bringing a rookie straight out of college to play in front of the large crowds at Providence Park is not as easy as it seems. That figures to change with Parsons who last season brought in Megan Oyster and Whitney Church from the draft and wound up making them the starting right side of the defense. (The Oyster pick was acquired in a trade with Riley.)
Another philosophical change could come in the number of players on the 2016 roster with Olympic dates. The 2015 Thorns were ravaged by World Cup absences which caused inconsistent lineups and tactics.
“For me and the organization here it’s a priority to have as many players here next season that won’t be going out to the Olympics,” Parsons said. “Now at the same time the best players in the world are performing at the Olympics. There’s got to be a balance. There’s got to be a small number but we’ve got to be very confident in the players who are not competing at the Olympics to get the job done every single day. My personal opinion is let’s not have too many disappearing, but not cut our nose off in regards to keeping very talented players or recruiting very talented players.”
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