On the heels of his team’s failure to make the playoffs, Washington Spirit have ended Mark Parsons’s tenure as head coach, the team announced today. The move will make the Spirit one of several NWSL teams looking for a new coach this offseason.
Parsons, who previously coached the Spirit from 2013-2015, was brought back on as head coach in November of last year. Washington finished 11th of 12 in the 2022 season, and it was clear that Parsons –with a history of NWSL success at Portland – was brought in to turn things around.
After leaving Washington the first time, Parsons coached the Portland Thorns to two NWSL Shields and a championship during his six years with that club. He was then named head coach of the Dutch Women’s National Team in 2021, serving in that position for one year.
Parsons spoke with The District Press about his plans for the Spirit before the season, promising change but also cautioning that it would take some time before his team reached their full potential. That was a theme Parsons went back to often in the early season, repeating that the team was on “a journey” and that it would take 8-10 games before fans would see the “real” Washington Spirit.
Despite Parsons’s caution, the Spirit started the 2023 season off strong, going 5-5-1 in their first 11 matches. However, they struggled during and after the World Cup window, when seven players left to represent their countries. After that international window began in July, Washington only won one game. Ultimately, they failed to make the playoffs, falling to a season-low 8th place after a final match on Sunday from which Parsons was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Washington’s press release does not make clear the status of Parsons’s contract or whether he was asked to leave clear, but he did express some disappointment at the end of his time in the District, indicating the move was likely not his choice.
“I am proud of the work the players and the staff have put in this season, and I know the Spirit is well-positioned for success moving forward given the foundation has been built. While I am disappointed to not be returning to the Spirit in 2024, I wish Michele and everyone at the club my gratitude and best wishes.”Mark Parsons, washingtonspirit.com
The decision to end Parsons’s tenure is in some ways a troubling one. The team outperformed many expectations this year, which was expected to be Year 1 or 2 of a rebuild, and after two turbulent years of head coaches fired for misconduct, there has to be some value in stability for the players. Taken from that perspective, removing Parsons feels like a hasty reaction from an owner new to the sports world.
On the other hand, the team had consistent problems throughout the season, putting up one of the lowest pass completion rates in the league, frequently underperforming their xG, and looking short on ideas of how to move the ball toward the goal. A different coach, with better ideas about how to cultivate the talent currently on the team, could solve a number of these problems.
What’s certain is that the search for a new coach will put additional pressure on the Spirit this offseason and could (once again) impact the team’s ability to recruit and evaluate what kind of player talent is needed for the future. In a year with two new teams entering the league and several high-profile free agents on the market, the front office will need to move quickly to find a head coach who meets their long-term vision and expectations.