PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Parsons, new Thorns FC head coach, comes to Portland with a wealth of coaching experience and a track record of developing players. He started coaching in his native Great Britain as part of the Chelsea FC academy with both boys and girls teams. While part of their Center of Excellence, Parsons observed and learned from coaches such as Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Brendan Rogers. He then went on to coach the Chelsea Ladies Reserves, winning the League Cup, the County Cup and the League Title for the first time in history. As an assistant coach with the U16 Girls Academy, Parsons helped lead the team to an Academy Championship in 2007.
As part of the staff that came to the U.S. with Chelsea FC on some of the Premier League side’s preseason American tours, Parsons was fascinated with life here. He and his wife moved to the Washington, D.C. area where Parsons began work with the D.C. United Womens U20 team taking them to a second place finish in the National Championship match.
He was named head coach of the Washington Spirit in 2014 after leading the Spirit Reserves to a W-League Championship. With the Spirit first team, Parsons had an 18-15-11 record and coached midfielder Crystal Dunn to a 2015 NWSL MVP season.
Parsons, 29, now moves to Portland with his wife and young daughter. He took a few moments to talk about his excitement at coming to The Rose City, his passion for developing players and what he’s got to get to work on in preparation for the 2016 season.
What are your initial thoughts at being named head coach of Thorns FC?
“I think that the first feelings are just proud to come in to be someone that Thorns FC wanted, and the respect for what the Thorns have done over the last three years on and off the field and across the league. I’m very proud to be approached with this opportunity and also realize that I’m sure it’s because I’ve done a successful job. But it’s not just me that has done a successful job. It’s been a team of players and staff, and together we were successful. So I owe a lot of people credit for me being the face of that.
“But it’s exciting. I think for me, it’s a really good chance to show the best of me and impact a bigger, more established organization with many strengths. I’ve got loads of excitement to get in, to get established, to get to know as many people as I can in the organization and be set up to succeed from the get-go.”
A phrase that comes up often with you is “player development.” You have a track record with Chelsea FC and with the Washington Spirit. What do you think it is you like about that process of getting the most out of your players?
“My passion for my own development is huge, and it’s the reason I’ve had good success, is because I’m passionate about it. But more importantly, people were willing to open the door and invest in me. At Chelsea there are people that did that for me. So because of my own experience, that’s how I’m passionate.
“With players in Washington, I think we’ve shown in two years we have done a great job of getting the best out of individuals. And Crystal Dunn is a good example.
“I say this to players all the time, we offer the same to every player. There are players that don’t overachieve, there are players that do. So while we are offering the same support to everyone, the player is the one that is deciding if they’re making the best of this or they’re deciding they’re not. Maybe there are some challenges; maybe they’re going through some stuff. But for me, connecting with players and making sure they know I’m all in, in making sure they perform at their best. I’m invested in them. Even on the bad days they’re going to have me and my support and on the good days they’ll have my support. I think that’s key, connecting with the players and setting targets. Setting targets to keep moving forward and holding people accountable. Sometimes people who are not executing are not doing other things technically, tactically, or executing. Maybe you can’t control that the ball just bounced this way or the opposition, but we can always control our effort and our attitude and focus. I am so strong on those three things.
What do you see as the keys to getting into the club here and starting to put everything into place for 2016?
“Firstly, being fully educated and in line with the vision of the club, the culture of the club. I want to understand the principles of the club on and off the field and understand that with great detail. And then from that comes my part, and within those guidelines in regards to building staff and strengthening the roster. Just be incredibly dedicated to intelligent work and making sure that we have the best possible staff. Make sure we have the best possible players that fit what the needs are in this city.
“The first thing is I’ve got to educate myself because I’m not that person who’s going to come in and say, ‘This worked here.’ The concepts we used in Washington, concepts I used in Chelsea, they are specific to the culture there. So I’ve got to educate myself and then be as aggressive and intelligent and strategic as possible with Gavin, to improve every element of the club we can. The core of working intelligently and working harder than anyone else is always going to motivate me and making sure we get the players who feel the same.”