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Washington Spirit announced that head coach Mark Parsons will not return to the club. The decision comes less than a year after Parsons was hired in November 2022 and just after the club was eliminated from NWSL playoff contention, losing the last game of the season on Sunday against the North Carolina Courage. 

His departure marks the third head coaching farewell for the franchise since 2021 and the second exit under general manager and president of soccer operations Mark Krikorian since Spirit owner Michele Kang took over in 2022

"We are grateful for Mark's contributions in the 2023 season," said Krikorian in a release. "He helped lay a strong foundation and set us on a path to excellence. We wish him all the best in the future."

Spirit are back in the coaching search

The Spirit are two years removed from their 2021 NWSL Championship, a feat the players reached in light of a toxic playing environment under former head coach Ritchie Burke. He was terminated midseason, but a further ongoing public dispute between former majority owner Steve Baldwin, minority investors, and current owner Kang continued to drag on during the players' championship run.

Parsons was brought on ahead of the 2023 sesaon board after former head coach Kris Ward was terminated in 2022 after a training incident where it was reported that he used aggressive behavior, racist language, and harassment. Both Burke and Ward were later banned from coaching in the NWSL after results from a joint investigation with the NWSL Players Association into widespread abuse and misconduct across the league.

A brief step forward

Parson's hire was celebrated initially as it was a return to the NWSL after a stint with the Netherlands women's national team that was cut short after a failed Euros campaign. He returned to the league where he had wild success with the Portland Thorns and to the original club that gave him his NWSL start

His comeback to the D.C. area was met with enthusiasm and hope that there was a head coach in place for stability due to his extensive experience. Parson's interactions and answers with the media were always met with an eye on growing the club while having several talented players to compete for titles. He and the Spirit remained in the upper half of the league table throughout the regular season with a 7-9-6 record.

There were stretches of winless runs at times and the Spirit's playoff hopes came down to the final match of the season. Unfortunately, Parson's final game was not the Decision Day finale. He missed the last game due to a match suspension after earning cautions in previous games. The Spirit's 1-0 loss to North Carolina on a wild Decision Day with winning results for other clubs meant the Spirit were eliminated from playoff contention.

"It has been a privilege to be back in Washington D.C. and the NWSL this past year. I am proud of the work the players and the staff have put in this season, and I know the Spirit is well-positioned for success moving forward given the foundation has been built," Parsons said in a club statement. 

"While I am disappointed to not be returning to the Spirit in 2024, I wish Michele and everyone at the club my gratitude and best wishes."

What's next

Now the Spirit are one of five teams that will be on the hunt for their next head coach. The NWSL playoffs begin on Friday and conclude with the NWSL Championship on Nov. 11 at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, California. The offseason starts now for teams not in the playoffs, with 2024 targeted as another double expansion year set to welcome Bay FC and Utah Royals FC. 

As always, you can watch the NWSL Playoffs on Paramount+.