Mark Parsons returns to DC as Washington Spirit’s new head coach

Netherlands’ head coach Mark Parsons gives a thumb up as he arrives for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 quarter final football match between France and Netherlands at the New York Stadium, in Rotherham, on July 23, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Washington Spirit hired Mark Parsons, who led the club to consecutive playoff appearances in the mid-2010s before winning the National Women’s Soccer League Championship with the Portland Thorns, to fill its vacant head coach position.

The Spirit posted a video of Parsons announcing he had been hired Monday morning. During an introductory news conference, Washington general manager Mark Krikorian said Parsons was the club’s top choice in a process that included a “diverse pool” of five candidates who were interviewed.

“D.C. is a very important place…it’s the club and the organization that they gave me my first chance of being coaching professionally, at a very, very young age,” Parson said.

“I think back to those days, and I wish I was a little bit better than I was when I started, but that’s part of the process. And I’m grateful to be back in an area where Spirit Squadron and the fans and the support is incredible.”

Parsons, 36, was Washington’s reserves coach before becoming the first team’s manger midway through the 2013 season. He led the Spirit to two fourth-place finishes in the regular season and two consecutive playoff appearances before leaving to manage the Portland Thorns in 2016. With him at the helm, the Pacific Northwest side won the NWSL Shield twice, the NWSL Championship in 2020 and the Challenge Cup in 2021.

Now, he returns to the D.C. area as one of most sought-after free agent coaches in women’s soccer, after spending more than a year as the head coach of the Netherlands women’s national team.

“Mark is one of the best coaches in the sport and we are thrilled to have him guiding our team as we start a new chapter,” Krikorian said in a statement. “After an extensive search process, we are confident that Mark’s experience and accomplishments are what we need as we continue to rebuild this club.”

Washington will look toward Parsons to help with a quick reset following its second-to-last place finish to last season. Well-known in American soccer circles, he will also be seen a stable hand for the Spirit, who have had two coaches fired in controversies in the past two seasons.

Club management reached out to Parsons about the vacant position in August. Following a meeting with owner Michele Kang, he said he wanted to join the club and to be a part of “that I haven’t seen in women’s soccer before.” Krikorian said that the club’s management and Kang were a part of the hiring process.

“I think we got it right, in terms of making sure that we consider it all kinds of different folks, and it was a fair process,” Krikorian said.

Parsons will jump into the roster-building process with a front office that has already made critical moves. Last week, seven players departed Washington after their contracts were not renewed. Kelley O’Hara, who scored the Spirit’s game-winner in the 2021 NWSL Championship, also left for NJ/NY Gotham in free agency. As of Monday, the Spirit have 13 players under contract.

In his time with Portland, Parsons grew a reputation of handling world-class talent while producing young American talent. His Thorns sides featured the likes of Canadian striker Christine Sinclair at the prime of her career, and Sophia Smith, this year’s NWSL MVP, earned her stripes.

When asked his thoughts on coaching the likes of Trinity Rodman, Parsons said he is excited to all the players but “the star will be the team.” He would like to implement an attacking style of play where transition play will be key to keep the opposition at bay. It will be key for his players to attack with the ball while being as aggressive as possible to regain possession.

“You’re gonna see an attacking team, high energy team,” Parsons said. “Whether we are home or away, doesn’t matter the opponent, we want to play how our identity is we want to put our identity and personality into the game.”

Parsons called the Spirit’s players a group that is “very hungry” but that want to be challenged. He added that he has met with some of them prior to his hiring becoming official and said it will be important to build a team identity “on and off the pitch,” which will take time.

Parsons, originally from England, will be returning to the D.C. region without his wife and daughter, who was born in Virginia during his first stint with the Spirit. While it will come to a surprise to his family and friends that he is returning to the U.S., it was an opportunity to resolve some “unfinished business” with the club that gave him his first shot as a head coach.

“I know that every experience is different,” he said. “When you’ve got a group of players that want to learn, you’ve got a chance and I’m walking into an environment where there’s a lot of hunger, and I can’t wait to get to work with them.”

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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