New Washington Spirit head coach Mark Parsons
I was all set to write an overview of where things stand in the W-League, but events have overtaken that.
First the facts, in case you’re not up on the news: After accumulating a 1-7-3 record and being unable to score for 456 consecutive minutes – and putting on a particularly lackluster performance Friday night – the Washington Spirit today fired head coach Mike Jorden and assistant coaches Kris Ward and German Peri. The new head coach is Mark Parsons, who’s being brought up from coaching the Spirit’s W-League team to a 6-2-1 record. No word yet on who the new assistant coaches will be.
Additionally, the Spirit traded their 2014 second-round draft pick to the Seattle Reign in exchange for young forward Lindsay Taylor and the Reign’s “conditional” fourth-round pick. To make room for Taylor, Washington somewhat controversially cut Domenica Hodak, a player seen by many fans as one of the very few overachievers on the team.
To discuss this, let’s go back to my season preview, where I asked five questions about the team.
1. Where’s the scoring going to come from?
I said at the time, “For Washington to succeed, someone’s going to have to have a breakout, Rookie of the Year season along the lines of Wambach in 2002.” That has not been forthcoming. Stephanie Ochs has worked hard but gets stuck in midfield. Jasmyne Spencer and Colleen Williams bring some excitement to the pitch but don’t have the polish to finish. Caroline Miller is injured and is out for the season. And their first-round college draft pick Tiffany McCarty isn’t even trying that hard. Midfielder Diana Matheson leads the team with four goals, and as I recall two of those were from penalty kicks. It’s kind of a shame when you realize that the Spirit could have taken Kristie Mewis and Erika Tymrak instead, both of whom have been outstanding for Kansas City.
3. Who’s the mystery Europe-based player they have dibs on?
(Question #2 was about back line depth, which with the current roster shouldn’t be an issue.) Well, we know now that she’s US U-23 defender Toni Pressley, who despite her defensive prowess hasn’t done much to buck up the team. Former German national team striker Conny Pohlers, an even more recent arrival, has likewise failed to make much of an impact.
4. What is this team going to look like at the end of the season?
I was thinking more of Tasha Kai and Jordan Angeli here, but I think this question is fairly close to being answered unless the team has more trades up their sleeve.
5. How good a coach is Mike Jorden?
It’s easy to say that this question has been answered, but has it, really? If a team is in trouble, the obvious quick fix is to fire the coach. But a coach is only as good as their players. Which leads me to a new question.
6. How much difference are these changes going to make?
This question can be divided into two parts. Part one is, how good a coach is Mark Parsons? Everyone I’ve talked to about him is high on him, and from that and my overall experience I fully expected him to be coaching at the highest level – either NWSL or college – some years down the line. This is well ahead of schedule.
He’s very enthusiastic and brings a lot of energy, unlike the laid-back Jorden. He’s coached the Spirit Reserves into playing quality attacking, possession soccer, but then that team has talented players that put it head and shoulders above most of the other W-League teams. We’ll see how he does against tougher competition.
Question part two is, does the team really have the players to be competitive in this league? I keep comparing this team unfavorably to the 2007 W-League Washington Freedom. That may sound like an insult, but that team boasted a roster with three players in common with the current team – Lori Lindsey, Ali Krieger, and Tiffany McCarty – plus WUSA veterans Emily Janss, Kele Golebiowski, and Casey Zimny; future WPSers Kati Jo Spisak, Sarah Huffman, Rebecca Moros, Alex Singer, and Sarah Senty; and finally Christie Welsh, who played in both leagues. The only two players on this team who would unquestionably supplant players on that team are Diana Matheson and Ashlyn Harris, though you could make a good case for Robyn Gayle, Tori Huster, Pressley, and Pohlers, at least. Jim Gabarra won the W-League with that team, then two years later added Abby Wambach, Sonia Bompastor, and a few other players, and ended up with a playoff-caliber WPS team.
None of the teams have a world-class European like Sonia Bompastor this time around, though just about all of them have an Abby Wambach or a decent approximation. The only two teams that don’t are Washington and Seattle, and look which teams are #7 and #8.
Seattle at least has Megan Rapinoe, but unless Pohlers really steps up or McCarty has a personality transplant, the Spirit still seem to be stuck. And while Taylor may turn out to be a fine acquisition, she doesn’t seem like a game-changer, just yet another young forward with potential, which the team seems to have plenty of already.
So really my feeling is that the reasonable expectation is for the Spirit to be back to where they were earlier in the season, playing decent soccer that ends in ties or close losses but still not on par with the rest of the league.
But if it’s any consolation, the 2001 Washington Freedom finished tied for last in the WUSA. As a result, they were able to pick up Abby Wambach in the following year’s draft. That and other personnel changes produced a team that made its way to the championship match two years in a row. Can the Spirit do the same? We shall see.