PORTLAND, Ore. — Sports has a well-known affinity for round numbers. We notice when a 10th goal is scored, a 20th assist is recorded, or a 30th win is notched. The 11th goal may say more about the player’s talent, but the 10th is where we stop and take notice.
Mark Parsons didn’t hit a round number on Sunday, but for the number 75, we seem to make exceptions. With the Portland Thorns 2-1 victory over the visiting Orlando Pride, Parsons became the second head coach in National Women’s Soccer League history to reach that win total, recording his 75th regular-season victory as a head coach.
“I’ve picked good teams, good players to stand an cheer for on the sidelines,” he said after the game. It was by far the shortest answer he gave in his interview. Every syllable of his response screamed I’d rather talk about anything else.
Though the Thorns conceded late to lose their shutout, Parsons’ 75th victory was still reminiscent of his first year in Portland, when improving the team’s defense helped vault the Thorns to the top of the standings. After allowing 29 goals in 20 games in 2015, Portland’s first season under Parsons saw the team’s goals allowed drop to 19 in 2016, the lowest in the league. The team rose from sixth to first. The Thorns had the league’s best defense in 2017, too, conceding only 20 times in 24 games.
For 94 minutes on Sunday, the Thorns’ defense harkened back to those seasons, holding Orlando to no goals and only one shot on target. In the 95th minute, a defensive breakdown allowed Pride substitute Marisa Viggiano to unload on a shot from just inside the penalty area, but when she beat Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby, it was the first time Portland has conceded since their five Olympians departed three weeks ago. Parsons’ team may be using different pieces, but as evident in the night’s scoreline — as well as the 20-6 difference in shots between the teams — the performances have remained strong.
“It was an excellent performance. I’m really proud …,” he said. “Tonight was defensively, offensively really balanced. Our decision-making with the ball, finding the right player at the right time — the right spaces at the right time — was very strong.”
The victory moved the Thorns into first place in the NWSL. It’s early in the season, so that standing doesn’t mean much, but the fact the Thorns are there at all is another part of the team’s consistency under Parsons. With the exception of 2018, Portland has spent some time atop the league in each season under Parsons. Whether it was his first year, during the 2019 World Cup, last autumn during the league’s Fall Series or this year, the Thorns’ have always found a way to spend some time on the league’s perch.
These may seem like minor things. How often your team has been first in July isn’t something you highlight on a resume or LinkedIn profile. Together, though, all this trivia paints a picture. The defensive solidity. The team’s current form. The lopsided shot totals the Thorns are putting up, or the fact that, despite various rosters and approaches, Parsons has always found ways to keep his teams near the top of the table. All those facets explain why the number 75 is so important. It’s not the product of one solution.
It’s also not a total which will end up meaning much. With win 75 in the books, win 76 becomes the focus, and if everything goes as planned this season, Parsons will sprint past the 80-win line before his time in Portland is done. Since that final win total is unlikely to end in a 5 or 0, we’re unlikely to take note.
At 75, we can take note. Like any other coach who reaches this milestone, Parsons gets the recognition he’s earned. This win might not be more important than the next, but it’s important we appreciate the moment.