The Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars were preparing to launch in the 2021 NFL Semi Finals when Tifo emerged from a sea of red-clad fans at the north end of Providence Park.
It was immediately apparent farewell to Thorns coach Mark Parsons, written in Dutch, surrounded by the six trophies he won during his time at the club. On the other side of the tipho was a poem written by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863 that read:
work with any zeal we desire,
Something is still undone,
There is still something unfinished,
Waiting for the sunrise.
“We wanted to make sure that no matter what happened after that game, we wanted him to know that we appreciate everything he did for the club and what he did for the club and us as fans,” said a member of the Pink City team. Capo Riveters, Tina Eitlin. “It was really just a big farewell to him and we knew that was the kind of thing we wanted for that last game of the season.”
As fans drifted into the stadium for the semi-final, excitement filled Providence Park as the Thorns were one step closer to playing for their fourth cup of the season. But there was a sense of sadness. Fans realized that regardless of the outcome, it would be Mark Parsons’ final match with Thorns’ management at Providence Park after six seasons, before leaving to coach the Dutch women’s national team.
“Coming into the field was a bit heartbreaking, knowing that whether we were going to win or lose, no matter what, it was probably the last time we saw Mark Parsons on the court,” Eitlin said.
The heartbreak continued. The Chicago Red Stars won 2-0 and ended Portland’s special season and Parsons’ time as coach of the Thorns to a devastating end. Unfortunately, this is how endings often happen in sports. Players, coaches, and teams rarely get the fantasy endings they deserve. The ending is often unceremonial and painful. But sometimes, these surprising and sad conclusions help us realize just how much someone or something means to us — and to many in the City of Roses, this team of Thorns and their manager Mark Parsons meant more to them than they ever imagined.
“It really seemed like an almost instant flick for the club,” said Eitlin. “He came in, we didn’t get past [first round of the] The playoffs are in 2016, but the team seemed to have that confidence in him right away. [It was the] The same thing with the technical staff, Nadine [Angerer] And everyone, and he seemed to have some really good results on the pitch.”
“We had some disappointments. Obviously, we can’t win every tournament. We can’t win every piece of hardware, but it looked like it came into things [got] a little better. It seemed like the guys there were just giving their all a little bit more than they might have before and it was really nice to see.”
Parsons built an amazing legacy as manager of the Portland Thorns Club. He compiled an overall record of 73-32-35 with Thorns. During the Thorns tenure, Portland had 62 regular season wins and 214 regular season points, more than any other club in the NWSL. Parsons was named NWSL Coach of the Year in 2016 and has been voted second in the vote this season.
During the 2021 season, The Thorns set the NWSL record for most closes (13) in a season and Parsons became the most winning manager in NWSL history with 82 career wins. The Portland Thorns have won three out of four trophies this season which increases Parsons and Thorns’ cup collection to six during his time with the club, including the NWSL Championship and two NWSL Shields.
Parsons’ impact while patrolling the Thorns seam was astounding. But his biggest influence on everyone was his personality, not his athletic results. In his last post-game press conference in Providence Park, Parsons highlighted the importance of connecting with people.
“What’s my message? People first, people second, people third, and then there’s a little football there,” Parsons said. “And I’ll take that wherever I go.”
Parsons’ connection to the people is what left many Thorns fans shattered when Portland lost 2-0 to Chicago. It was not only Parsons’ final game at Providence Park, but now his last game for Thorns after six seasons in which Parsons has made a lasting impression on many, especially those of the North End – Rose City Rifters.
“He just got it,” Eitlin said. “He loves reaching out to us to see how crazy we are. Honestly… it feels like it was an extension of the Rivets. He understands our passion. He understands a lot of times when we have issues maybe with what it’s like on the pitch or even with the current things that’s going on. Now in the front office. He knows a lot of that may not be directed at him personally – just because we’re excited. We want to see everyone associated with the club, and the players in particular, we want them happy. And if we don’t it makes us sad, and I know that in turn saddens him.”
Parsons not only understood the fans’ passion, but loved it too. The Englishman has consistently praised the Rivets and hailed them as the best fans in the world. Parsons reached out to the fans in Portland as no coach had before in the Portland Thorns or Timbers.
“We didn’t really do that [had a connection with a coach like we did with Parsons]Itlin said. “I think there was a little with Caleb Porter, but not on the level that we have with Mark Parsons, to be completely honest.”
“He’s still a front office employee. He’s still there, but he’s still very much in touch with us. I hope…we have a small part of the relationship that we had with our next coach. I think we’ll be lucky, to be honest.”
The Thorns volunteer in the community each year during Stand Together Week and Parsons believes it is one of the most important things the organization does. In 2019, the Riveters family helped paint the visiting rooms at the Beaverton Department of Human Services building, Which sparked a video game rivalry between Parsons and another capo, Alex Staller.
“It kind of created a bit of a back-and-forth with one of our other capos, Alex,” Eitlin said. “I think they were playing FIFA [and] Alex kicked his butt. It was great. So there was a little bit of a lag between him and Alex there.”
“He likes talking to us kind of sadly like that,” Eitlin said. “And then also having his daughter part of the post-match party really meant a lot to us — getting her to go out with Kling, Rose, and cheer her up with her.”
After every home game, the Thorns run their very own rose party. The Thorns and their supporters gather in the North End and celebrate the players and team by giving them flowers. Until Parsons’ daughter, Eddie Parsons, returned to England in the middle of the 2021 NWSL season, she was center stage with Megan Klingenberg during the rose festivities. Eddie and Klingenberg were taking their place in the penalty area in front of the north end and raising their arms up and down, leading the Rose City Riders in cheers. It was a tradition that fans cherished and will miss very much.
“It always feels like something after the game,” he said. “And it would be weird, thinking she wouldn’t be there to do that with us anymore.”
Parsons’ people-first and player-first approach, the relationship he and his family forged with the city and community, and his down-to-earth personality made him more than just a coach for many supporters – he’s been a role model at that. Many in Portland.
It’s really how he can get past being a coach,” Eitlin said. “He’s not just the Portland Thorne’s head coach — it’s Mark playing Parsons.”
“He’s just a leader,” Eitlin said. “He was a front office employee, someone who worked directly with Thorns [but] He still looks like a leader not only for the team but for the Rivipers as well. It’s the kind of person there that we can always look up to to do the right thing, and do their best to produce results. That’s what it was really like for us… It just felt like we’ve had the right person in this place for a long time and I felt really good and he really is the best kind of leader.”
Although coach Mark Parsons will surely be missed, the person, leader and friend Mark Parsons will leave an even greater void in Portland’s community. His devotion to the humanity of the sport and his commitment to being more than just a coach is why many Thorns fans will be wearing orange this summer – not because they are Holland fans, but because they will always be fans of Mark. Parsons.