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.

ByAnnie Elliott

Mostly writing about the Washington Spirit

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Talonesque #

I for one think it’s wise to move on. Find someone who knows how to get the team to connect and flow forward more.


On paper Mark Parsons was a wise hire: previous experience in DC, success in NWSL, international experience (club and country), nice guy, bought in to the ambitious plans Kang has. And frankly, while I was dubious of the decision to convert Tara McKeown but in retrospect, that was a wise decision.

But the performance is the performance. I’d cut him slack during the WC because he was missing 7 players at various times. But even after the WC, the Spirit were a team that played direct, had little tactical sophistication, basically would kick the ball out to Sanchez and Rodman and say “okay, go create a chance!” That’s very poor youth rec soccer. I’m not saying the Spirit need to emulate Barca/Spain in terms of tika-taka or positional play. But the Spirit were just glaring in their approach tactically–how simplistic it was. And the results (failure to win games, challenge to score goals despite having some fine offensive players)–that speaks for itself.

I think getting a new coach soon matters a lot. Timing is a big deal in this case. The new coach should have a big impact on the roster decisions made before the expansion selections as well as the draft and free agency.


And to that point, the expansion draft is Dec. 16th. So you figure the Spirit braintrust has 45 days to get a coach on board and then have discussions with the players (because inevitably, some will seek trades or relocation, other teams will seek to move players).

David Rusk

I agree completely with JoeW’s comments. Having watched all but one (when I was in Argentina) of the Spirit matches, the inability to link up shorter passes to move the ball up the field and into the 18 yard box was a constant frustration. My impression was that every opponent played positional soccer better than the Spirit.

Our offense seemed to be either 1) boot the ball upfield for Rodman or Hatch to run down or 2) head the ball in off a Sam Stab corner, direct kick, or long thrown in (or the resulting melee in the box if the opposition failed the clear same).

One effect was total misuse of Ashley Sanchez if she indeed was/is a USWNT #10.

I sure hope that we get a top notch coach quickly. (Pia Sundhege, anyone?)

I continue to have great faith in Michelle Kang, who is nobody’s fool


I have no basis for having any opinion, but it seems Spirit came up short in that last crucial match in large part because of the red card to Rodman. NC Courage won and wound up in 3rd place, and Spirit lost and wound up in 8th place, but their placings could be reversed if Spirit had won that last game Seems harsh to can him.

Talonesque #

The performances and use of the star players were both suboptimal. It was an unfortunate thing to happen, I don’t think anyone who watched a number of games thought it was building toward anything.


If anything, I think they regressed.


Except as Kingsbury said, it wasn’t about the last game. 2 wins in the last 12 matches. For a team with 7 international players and (depending upon how you count) 4-5 USWNT players. This team lost to teams it shouldn’t have lost to. And forget the “eye test” (which wasn’t good): the analytics just made the Spirit look terrible. Last or next to last in the league on things like “passes per possession” and “progressive passes” and “chances created.” And it’s not like this was a team that was bunkering. They basically played direct soccer–go vertical, get the ball to Sanchez or Rodman and expect them to create a chance with their skill, moves, and speed. Total inability to break down a defense once they were trailing.

Again, this time last year, Mark Parsons is one of the names I suggested for the Spirit. On paper, it’s an excellent choice. But the results over the season (even discounting the WC when key players were missing) and the way they played was just terrible.


They were one of the leaders in xG, but couldn’t actually convert. A little more clean finishing and the passes wouldn’t have mattered at all.


Jason Anderson mentioned on Twitter the difference between hosting a home game and 8th for the Spirit and the Reign was a single save. The last game wasn’t the only reason they didn’t make the playoffs.


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