Mark Parsons, Thorns vs. NC, 9.11.19
Photo by Sam Ortega

Reflection, balance key as Thorns move forward

PORTLAND, Ore. – Practices at Providence Park on Tuesday and Wednesday have marked the first time Portland Thorns FC coaches and players have spoken publicly since last week’s loss, one that ignominiously went down in the team’s record books.

In the wake of that 6-0 defeat to the North Carolina Courage, “reflection” was a keyword in head coach Mark Parsons’ assessment, with “balance” defining what he wants in his team’s response.

“It’s very, very disappointing that [the loss to North Carolina] happened,” Parsons conceded on Wednesday, four days before his team returns to the field to face the visiting Houston Dash (7:30pm PT, TICKETS, Yahoo! Sports). “I sincerely apologize to all the fans here, all the fans online, them seeing that performance [from] us …

“[The game] didn’t reflect the personality or character with us. It’s probably the first time I’ve felt like that since I’ve been here. We won’t ever let that happen again.”

The defeat marked the worst of Parsons’ time as a head coach, a span that stretches back to the middle of the 2013 with the Washington Spirit. It was also the greatest margin of defeat in Thorns history.

“It starts and ends with me: the coach,” Parsons said. “We didn’t get things right, and uncharacteristically. Because if you look at the two (previous) performances against [North Carolina, this season], the three performances against Chicago, and also you put [Reign FC] and Utah in those categories – big, big games – apart from [the 6-0 loss], performance-wise we felt really good. We’d done a good job.

“This was a bad one. I know I’ve reflected already on some of the things that added to it – there’s loads of things outside and off the field that went into it. I think I got a lot wrong in preparation.”

Those mistakes, according to Parsons, extend back to six days before the game, when the Thorns were assimilating players who had been away with their national teams. 

“FIFA players returned,” the preceding Thursday, Parsons explained. “We trained early, 8 a.m.. We flew to Utah. We played the next day. We flew back the next day. Then we had a team event. And then we had training really early the next day. 

“People walked into that (North Carolina) game probably with more baggage than they had in any other game this year. That was on me.”

Those were contributing factors, according to the coach, all of which provide important context to what happened on the field. Between the lines, there were other concerns.

“Fighting and working is obviously number one,” Parsons said. “We didn’t have that that day. Anything else doesn’t matter if you’re not working, fighting, running, representing the character of this team.”

At this point, the North Carolina result is in the past, with the start of the season’s 22nd game closer than the end of game 21. For Parsons, meeting the coming challenge requires a “balance” between learning from last week and being defined by it.

“If you zoom out – and these were words after the needed reflection, the needed accountability, starting with me and throughout everyone – the reflection is we tied a (season) series with North Carolina,” he explained, alluding to the draw and victory the Thorns had against the Courage in the teams’ previous meetings. “One, one and one this season. That game killed us on goal differential – we were level and now we’re (at) a 12-goal difference, each goal is double playing each other. But we were one, one, one, and now we’re in (a) position where we’re fighting for a home playoff (spot) ...

“So, it’s a balance. If someone wasn’t (going) to take [the result] hard enough, there’s a problem. If someone wants to take it too hard and get stuck in a rut, that’s a problem. We’ve got to be balanced, and I think we’ve done a good job of being balanced and finding a way to move forward.”

Though the team’s reflection phase over, the process of moving forward can’t take its next step with another game. And at this point, Saturday’s match against Houston can’t arrive soon enough.

“It’s been a fiery few days of training,” Parsons said. “People are tired of kicking each other. They’re ready to kick another team."

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