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Paul Danzer on Soccer: Parsons assigns web-based study projects for his Portland players

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - MARK PARSONSThe first team meeting of 2020 with his Portland Thorns was different for coach Mark Parsons.

"It was interesting with a brand-new team and brand-new players that the very first time we connected it would be on a video call," he said. "And that was to be able to communicate what the next two weeks would look like in regard to our team support and individual support."

During a Friday conference with reporters, Parsons talked a bit of soccer, but most of the discussion was about how the National Women's Soccer League club is helping players cope and train during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No one knows when the season might start. The league has postponed its mid-April opening indefinitely. All but a couple of the Thorns are in Portland during this delay, Parsons said.

While they cannot train together, Parsons said the Thorns need to take advantage of this unexpected down time.

"Unfortunately, we have lots of time. We can take that and use that to develop our team," Parsons said.

That development includes mandatory team and individual meetings using web-based communication tools. One example is an assignment for each player to profile a male or female player of her choice. Each player was given two games worth of video of her chosen player to review in depth.

"Assistant coach Rich (Gunney) came up with the model to really understand their minds and how their minds see the game," Parsons said, adding that the project probably wouldn't be happen under normal circumstances, "because we are always so focused on their performance related to the Thorns and our team tactics."

Parsons stressed that the support for the players goes beyond providing workout plans and tactical homework.

"We want to make sure we balance this support because there are bigger things going on right now than us preparing to play soccer," Parsons said. "We are trying to get that balance (right) because the individual is going to need mental and emotional support, not just for themselves, but for their friends and family. The mantra and the theme has been together. So far the team has been superb in embracing that."

On soccer subjects:

• Parsons called his fifth season coaching the Thorns "the start of a new era."

The focus, he said, will not be on winning every game. Instead, the emphasis will be on establishing the behaviors and habits on and off the field that will build the team into one that can overcome challenges and have long-term success.

"There's no way this happens fast. It's going to be a journey, and there's going to be bumps," Parsons said. "If we get it right, we'll become obsessed with that journey and that process."

• He said all but two rostered players are in Portland, but that the NWSL instructed teams to send non-contract trialists home.

• Parsons said the Thorns are getting close to adding a pair of international players, but he did not identify their targets. Schedule changes and other challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic might impact those roster moves, Parsons said. 

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