The NWSL championship teams are set, we bid Mark Parsons farewell and Crystal Dunn is expecting!

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, November 15, 2021

First off, my sincerest condolences to Bella Bixby and her family. If you don’t follow this sport closely and weren’t watching yesterday’s semifinal matches, the Portland Thorns fell at home to the Chicago Red Stars, 2-0.

Afterward, the Thorns goalkeeper posted to Twitter:

It’s just heartbreaking and another reminder that this is just a game. I can’t imagine what Bella must be going through.

Through that lens, it feels weird to analyze the match, but it was a stunning end to Portland’s amazing season. Kudos to Morgan Gautrat, who had a heck of a game. But I think the player of the match was goalkeeper Cassie Miller, who made seven saves and faced an astonishing 21 shots.

Even without players like Julie Ertz, who played just one game this season because of an MCL injury, and Alyssa Naeher, who was hurt in the Olympics, the Red Stars are headed to the finals.

The team also played without MVP candidate Mal Pugh because of coronavirus protocol. Coach Rory Dames said Pugh and Kayla Sharples were “symptom-free” and he hoped to have them back for the final. There’s also Kealia Watt, who injured her right knee early in the match and was subbed off.

The Red Stars will face the Washington Spirit in the finals. While Chicago overcame injuries and absences, the Spirit overcame considerable adversity.

They had to forfeit two games because of coronavirus protocols, coach Richie Burke was fired for violating the league’s anti-harassment policy, and team owner Steve Baldwin turned the ownership and now sale of the team into some strange power play.

But also, Trinity Rodman is an amazing player. So is Ashley Sanchez. What a goal.

As for the top-seeded Thorns and the second-seeded Reign, now the offseason starts. Will Christine Sinclair return for another season. Will Megan Rapinoe?

Mark Parsons is off to the Netherlands after a six-year run with the team. Asked what it takes to be successful, he said: “People first. People second. People third. And there’s a little bit of soccer there.”

Since it might be my final postgame with Parsons until the 2023 World Cup (with any luck!) I included what he said below.

Meg Linehan reported a few days ago in The Athletic that Rhian Wilkinson is the Thorns’ new coach, and she’s been spotted around Portland [Editor’s note: Rhian, not Meg]. A formal announcement has not yet been made.

As for the Reign, coach Laura Harvey, who took over after Farid Benstiti was dismissed, posted this:

I will say this, on a personal note: Sometimes you just pray for a season to be over, especially with teams that suck. It’s like, good riddance. But sometimes, a team’s season is over and you’re left wanting more. That’s how I felt about the Thorns this season. There were so many stories I wanted to write that I could never get to, because of the Olympics and college football and everything else. Later in the season it was just all scandal, all the time.

But I wish I’d been able to do a story on what a hero local kid Bella Bixby had become for this team. How Rocky Rodriquez was such a great spark. How Angela Salem was lifting everyone around her. And I could seriously write a book about Meghan Klingenberg.

We’re supposed to be unbiased in our coverage, and I understand that. But there were so many great stories this season that were left untold, by me. I need to do better. [Editor’s note: there’s only one of you, Annie!]

And with that, we’re on to the links.


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LINKS!

Hey guys, I wrote about Crystal Dunn and her role with the USWNTPA. Shameless appeal for clicks so I can continue to do these kinds of stories! Oh, and on a side note, Crystal told me during our interview that she was expecting, but I was sworn to secrecy. I’m just so happy for her.

The strangest story of the past week so far: AP’s story on the Diallo arrest. The BBC reports that she denies the attack. She was not charged. CNN story on investigation continuing.

The Washington Post’s take on the Spirit-Reign game.

The Athletic looks forward to the title game. Speaking of The Athletic, one of my favorite people, Matt Pentz, took a look at the Reign. And Pablo Maurer fortuitously spoke to Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez last week.

TMZ reported on Dennis Rodman showing up for Trinity Rodman‘s match against the Courage.

Angel City was fined for tampering with Allie Long, from Angels on Parade.

Seth Vertelney from Goal.com wrote a really nice piece on Ebony Salmon.

Imani Dorsey added to USWNT for Australian games.

Inter Miami hires Dawn Scott!

Nike extends partnership with U.S. Soccer.

E! Online with a cute story about Sydney Leroux being the ultimate Soccer Mom.

This was stunning: North Carolina loses. First-time ever under Dorrance that the Tar Heels have been eliminated in the opening round.

And talk about stunning: UCLA loses, too! First loss of the season.


BABIES!


The IX Interview: Mark Parsons says farewell

I didn’t include all of it because it was lengthy, but if you’d like to give the whole postgame interview a watch, it’s right here.

Question from Grant Little: I was wondering if you could just reflect on your journey a little bit. And if you could tell yourself one thing back in 2016 when you took this job, knowing how it all plays out, what would it be?

Parsons: A really good question. I think it’s important to first of all to congrats Chicago, turned up in probably the hardest place to play against probably the hardest team to play and very stingy, very disciplined, very organized performance, and they’ve got a great result for them. So congrats to them, their players and their staff.

Reflecting is going to take a while. I’ve been eyes on the prize and trying and stay focused. What can I tell myself in ’16? Don’t ever think it’s football first. Don’t ever think it’s tactics first, or X and Os or drills or sessions or training. It’s always people first. And of course, I sometimes do that well, and sometimes you forget and you get distracted with soccer. But it’s the most important biggest lesson that I continue to learn and I continue to want to be better at. Being there for people, supporting people, developing an environment, creating an environment, a culture where where people can be themselves. They can be themselves and take risks on. They can be themselves and push forward, not not scared of failure or fear of failure. Building an environment where players and staff are connected on a personal level, on a professional level. But most importantly, are there to absolutely push each other to their best.

It’s hard to build a culture that truly pushes high performance and excellence. And what’s happened here is players and staff relentlessly chase that. And that’s what’s here. And that’s what’s only going to get stronger from this point, especially after the last two years. There’s so much leadership throughout this club, on this team within the staff, with amazing staff coming in that’s going to continue to push that culture. So what’s my message? People first, people second, people third, and then there’s a bit of soccer there. And I’ll take that wherever I go. I did learn that on my own, there’s a lot of great people who constantly — together we’ve grown and reminded ourselves, take care of people and then you’ll probably end up with some great soccer players.

Question from Meg Linehan: I just was hoping that you could maybe walk us through what some of your favorite things about this week have been, maybe some of your favorite people, favorite games, just the memories that you’re you’re going to take and maybe that you’ve grown from.

Parsons: Yeah, media has to be right up there. (Laughs) On a serious note, the rest of the world is chasing what media do here for women’s soccer. Go back to 2012-13, kind of getting involved with women’s soccer. And I spoke to Jeff recently, The Equalizer’s, the only thing I could find and a few other people that were doing their relentless work, and now it’s exploded. There’s just a commitment to be able to put these fine athletes and amazing people on a place where they deserve to be. Players, staff, from Cheryl Bailey and the NWSL from the early years, the front office NWSL will take a lot of stink from everyone but they’re relentlessly trying to push things forward and forever grateful for for what they’ve done to build the league to where it is, where it’s at. We often say NWSL, Portland Thorns or, or team’s names or league’s names, there’s always people behind the scenes and everyone has to be proud of what’s happened here.

But this club is the best in the world, best in the world because they have the a heartbeat driving and pushing them, and it’s fans. The fans here have given me and my family gifts that we’ll be forever grateful for, in showing us how how women’s soccer or World Soccer should be supported. My wife and my daughter and me are going to take relationships, friendships, lifelong friendships, away from this city, this community. It starts with a fan base this inspired us to to fall in love with this place and move here and spend six years of our life. Yeah, the staff here in Portland, you will never ever find a more committed hard-working staff that put the team and the club above themselves every day. And it’s taken its toll, I’m sure, but this is this is what it takes to to push and to be better and this staff has not only made themselves and the team better but most importantly the staff made me better.

This league has has gone through a lot and evolved a lot and the people that are most responsible, the players. It’s interesting because we’re in an era now where people like Christine Nairn, who retired in Houston this year, to Tori Huster, who we send lots of love to after the injury last week. There’s players throughout this league from 2013, ’14, ’15. A lot of them are still in the league, who remember those days and remember the pain that it took, and the struggle it took to get to — of course we’re in a better place now and we need to push, we need to get even better. But I think about the players throughout the whole league, a lot of clubs, and there’s a lot of players that I didn’t get to coach that I’ve admired. The people that I’ve been able to spend time with, the players that I’ve been able to spend time with, I am who I am as a person, as a husband, as a father because of the players. They’ve made me better in every sense. Of course, I have a professional career as a coach, because players have given me a chance, players have given me the opportunity. Most importantly they gave me belief in hardest times and made me better. So I’m grateful for a lot of people and if I could finish with who I’m most grateful for, it’s players in this league, along with owners, front office, fans, media. Players continue to drive, and we’ve got to support them, we’ve got to back them and we’ve got to continue to make the standard higher and make sure that they don’t don’t have to struggle through while being a professional athlete.

Question from Katelyn Best: That’s such a tough loss for you guys. What do you say to your players after that game and I also would just like to say personally, it’s been real and wish you good luck the Netherlands.


Parsons: It has been real, appreciate you amazing coverage of the team, also the chats. I remember a coffee chat we had spontaneously. Thank you for giving me the respect and time always, and maybe the benefit of the doubt a few times as well. It is a really tough result. I’ve had some unbelievable victories with teams, I’ve had some really tough defeats with teams. This just feels different. What this team has been about, has always been bigger than the outcomes, always been bigger than the result. The ball can bounce in — literally on a night night tonight — the ball can bounce in or out, sometimes you can’t control that. These players have shown each other what is important within a special team. They’ve been a special team, they see it, they hear it, they feel it. But most importantly, is that they know the things that are most important to create that, to develop that, to foster that, to empower an environment that builds players up, that supports players to be their best. They know. And my message is no 90 minutes is ever going to define all the work that our group has put in. We wanted to be something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to be something bigger than trophies and wins. This team has been that absolutely, relentless. And because of that, this club and this team is going to continue to be even more special.

When I move on, or staff or a player moves on, they’re going to be in a different environment and they’re going to have some of the most important lessons — just like I have — of what makes us special team. And for me, we need we need more positive leaders, we need more leadership amongst staff and players on what it takes to be truly excellent. It’s always about people. It’s always about relationships, building trust and making sure the journey in the process is worth it and worthwhile. It’s been the hardest two years ever, to lead as a player or lead as a coach and leaders and staffer. It’s been the hardest two years ever. I’m not pretending I’m the only one going through it. A lot of people have gone through it. It’s been the hardest, and it’s been the best, two years that I’ve ever coached. Why? Because the people that I’m with every single day it’s always going to be about people.

Question from Paul Danzer: Thank you for your time and your thoughtfulness over the years, and good luck on that. My question is, talk about managing the two week break, and the different vibe of this from previous years.

Parsons: We had two weeks to spend together around our favorite friends, each other. If we had played on Thursday, I think that would have been perfect. The crew was primed and ready and flying. We had 11 v 11 final preparation before we started just to taper off a little bit. That would probably be the hot spot. The we dropped down and the we took it easy over the last few days. Look at the first half. This team was unbelievable in the first half, the ball wouldn’t go in and the only shot they had snuck in, which is the strangest goal you may see all year. I couldn’t ask for more from our group at that point. I’ve just been in these games too many times to know momentum and when you get a goal ahead and you can make life difficult, and then you get another goal, screamer, that you don’t often see. It became that type of day where it wasn’t our day. I love the way that the team prepared, the mindset, the focus. The focus has probably been the best in the last two weeks that I’ve ever seen anyone as a collective group. We had a scout team of players on the scout team, literally rewatching videos asking the staff `Is this what Chicago would do? Is this will how they would fill this space or be in that space? Everyone was committed to making sure this team could perform and the first half performance — the ball bounces here or there, it’s a different game but that’s that’s football. And that’s why I think — and I learned this lesson the hard way — I think it’s why it’s so important, that when we’re coaching, leading and or playing, we’re in a team sport. If you’re just chasing the wins or trophies of just trying to get to an outcome that helps your team or make you look better, it’s just not worth it. It’s just gonna end up feeling so much less than it can’t what it can feel like.

This is a group of players, a group of staff, a team that’s going to be bonded for the rest of their lives because of what they built and how they attacked every day, every week, every game and they played the best soccer the league has seen through some of the hardest times. They’ve won four trophies in a row and come up short here because another team were really hard working, really disciplined, and they fought their way through to a championship game. We’re going to say well done to Chicago and for us, we move on and this club is going to be even better and stronger next year.


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Annie Peterson