Mark Parsons, Thorns training, 3.20.19
Photo by Sam Ortega

"Calm" key as Parsons, Thorns FC turn focus to NWSL regular season

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Most Week Ones are different. The stress is higher. The number of tasks staffs and rosters have to accomplish can feel enormous. For a head coach preparing his soccer team for the first game of a regular season, there’s a sense of urgency, trying to ready a group while sand grains fall.

According to Portland Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons, though, this week – the final one before the opening of the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League season – has not been like most.

“I feel calm in the fact that we’ve got some very good, very deliberate work in, so far,” Parsons said Tuesday, reiterating the response’s key word, calm, multiple times while describing the days before kickoff. The Thorns start their season on Sunday against the Pride in Orlando, Florida (2pm PT, Stream at Yahoo! Sports).

“I said it to the group, and I didn’t plan to say it before the meeting – it just kind of hit me,” he explained. “I’m normally stressed out to the eyeballs on this day: day one, week one of the regular season. Because we have to achieve 30,000 things in four days, and fly and do this, and do this.”

This year, though? Totally different.

“I feel calm that the buy-in from the group and the standards that they set for themselves is really good, and really high,” he said.

“For me, it’s a fun week in the sense of, we get to raise the intensity. We get to really push and nudge each other toward what we were building for five weeks,” throughout the course of this year’s preseason, he said. “We got to drip feed toward the end of the week. We’ve got to drip feed toward Orlando and their threats.

“But really, it’s about reminding (the team) of the good work we’ve been doing. I feel calm, and I feel excited. Normally, that’s not the case.”

Sunday marks the team’s fourth season-opener under Parsons, who joined the Thorns before the 2016 season. That year, Portland opened the Parsons era with a 2-1, home win over Orlando and improved on that result the following year, opening 2017 with a 2-0 victory against the Pride at Providence Park.

Last year was the first time Portland failed to start a season with points since Parsons’ arrival, losing 1-0 in Cary, North Carolina, to the eventual NWSL champions, the Courage. This year, Portland returns to the tradition of opening their campaign against the Pride, with Parsons confident in the team’s early-season work.

“I feel that (calm and excitement), a natural feeling, because the group has done great work,” he continued. “I don’t feel like we have thousands of things to work on, which sometimes we do, at this time.”

Part of that calm may come from the consistency in Parsons’ lineup, where there have been no major changes to the starting group from 2018. That doesn’t mean his week lacks for decisions, though. First-choice left-center back Emily Menges has been ruled out as she recovers from a foot injury, while Hayley Raso, in competition to start at right wing, has seen her training with the Thorns limited throughout the preseason.

“I can guarantee there is someone on our roster who will be playing left-center back,” Parsons said, when asked about his defense. He won’t lack for options. Elizabeth Ball, Kelli Hubly and Katherine Reynolds all return after seeing time at center back last season, while 2018 first-round draft pick Gabby Seiler started two games at the position in preseason.

Likewise, in attack, Parsons will have multiple options to choose from, something that should come in handy at a physically taxing position.

“We’ve had multiple people play there. We’ve also had multiple people do really well …,” he explained, referring to the striker and right-wing spots. All of Tyler Lussi, Ifeoma Onumonu and Mallory Weber saw time on the wing in the Thorns’ invitational.

“Whoever starts there – because of the demand, especially in this first game – I’m sure one or two players will also be getting a look coming off the bench,” Parsons said. “What we feel good about is whoever starts and whoever is finishing is going to be in a good place to do their job thanks to this great preseason tournament, against real opposition.”

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