From worst to…well, not first, but making the playoffs in 2014 after such an inept start to their NWSL experience had to feel gratifying for the Washington Spirit. Washington just about snuck into the playoffs on a tiebreaker with Chicago, proving the decision to keep Mark Parsons in charge after he took over in the middle of the 2013 horror show was the right one. While most expected the Spirit to be better than their first season miserable selves, few probably expected a run to the playoffs given the massive turnaround needed.
Not that that turnaround didn’t come with some real bumps in the road. Washington’s defense was still terrible, with the team conceding nearly two goals a game and finishing with a negative goal differential. It was a good thing then that the club got goals galore from offseason signing Jodie Taylor, who was a bit inconsistent but often set opposing defenses on fire when she was in a groove. In the end, there was just enough offense to offset just enough of the wretched defense to get the Spirit to the postseason.
And Parsons has at least gone some way to rectify some of the defensive woes the club suffered through last season thanks to the club’s 2015 draft and a few trades. But Washington also faces the prospect of trying to grind out goals from a frontline that looks dubious on paper to say the least. Taylor was traded to Portland, and Natasha Harding, a planned replacement, was denied a visa. It means Parsons is going into battle with a strikeforce composed of players coming off serious injuries and with much to prove at this level. Odds are, the Spirit aren’t going to be so fortunate in the league table if they conceded forty plus goals this season.
Mark Parsons stepped in in the middle of 2013, taking over a club short on confidence, but it wouldn’t be until 2014 until he began to really put his imprint on the Spirit. The Spirit manager seemingly made a faustian bargain, trading defensive solidity for attacking impetus, enabling Washington to reach the postseason despite conceding a bucketful of goals. While ‘score one more than your opponent’ may please the neutrals, it’s also a strategy that probably isn’t going to work out in the long run, perhaps explaining why the Spirit underwent a massive defensive overhaul in the offseason.