The 2017 NWSL College Draft is nearly two months away, but Portland Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons is already hard at work compiling his draft board and scouting reports.
The coach's intensive scouting work will culminate tonight with a trip to San Jose, Calif. to catch each of the two NCAA Women's Soccer College Cup semifinal matches. Parsons will first watch the University of North Carolina take on West Virginia before taking in a battle between Georgetown and the University of Southern California.
It will mark one of the first times this collegiate season that the Thorns head coach will be able to watch live some of the players that he has spent the past several months scouting on his television screen.
But Parsons is quick to point out that while watching a player on the pitch is valuable, it's only half of the process of evaluating whether a player can fit into his Portland Thorns team.
“The most crucial part you don't get to see during the game,” he said. “The crucial part in what they're like as a person, their character, the way they've dealt with success, the way they've dealt with failure, the way they've handled relationships, their emotional intelligence, their social intelligence, the critical things that we don't get to see.”
Parsons, however, spends only a portion of his time pouring over game tape and going over the list of player needs for his roster. The other part of his time is spent talking to the current and past coaches of prospective picks on his draft board in order to understand what a player's like off the field.
“It's not as easy as finding the player who can win a soccer game at college,” Parsons explained. “It's who's ready to train and live and be a champion each day in their preparation for each session. It's hard to find those kids and when you do, you wrap them up in cotton wool.”
Parsons, now entering his fourth season as an NWSL head coach, acknowledges that though the College Drafts are often top-heavy in terms of talent, there's no telling what such an unpredictable day might bring. It's why he comes as prepared as possible with a ranked list of around 50 possible selections.
“We have to be prepared,” he said. “If we're picking number one, who do we pick? If we're picking number seven, if we're picking number 29. We have to be ready for everything. The only way to be ready is to know this draft class inside out. It takes hours and hours of time, hours and hours of watching the soccer side. It takes hours of speaking [to former coaches].”
So far, this level of preparation has served Parsons well. It's why his trip to San Jose is as much about talking to the college coaches in attendance than it is about player scouting.
That's not to say, though, that Parsons isn't open to discovering something new and unexpected.
“I don't see a player blindsiding me this weekend because I know them all,” he said. “I know all the seniors. I've seen them play at least once. But it could happen where I've got someone a bit further down the pecking order and then we watch them live and they blow us away. That could happen.”
It could happen in San Jose because it's happened to Parsons before.
While he was the head coach with the Washington Spirit, Parsons once attended a Georgetown match to scout several University of Central Florida players, but instead left the match impressed by another player entirely: Georgetown defender Emily Menges.
Had the Thorns not selected Menges with the 25th overall pick of the 2014 NWSL College Draft, Parsons was prepared to select the defender with the very next pick. Two years later, Parsons comes to Portland and coached Menges and the Thorns to their first NWSL Shield trophy.
Ultimately, Parsons acknowledges how much he loves this aspect of his job.
“I love giving young players an opportunity. I love working with young players and the reward of seeing young players develop and grow,” he said. “So this process is something that I'm extremely passionate and motivated about to the point where I don't pass on any responsibilities when it comes to scouting college players. I take it all on because I just love it and want to be involved in it.”