On August 22, Gotham FC found themselves winless in their last four games. The team had started off the season strong, but was now in a rut.
Then, the news broke. Head coach Freya Coombe had accepted a job with 2022 expansion team Angel City FC. Fans of the NWSL were stunned by this unprecedented development. A coach had never accepted a job with another team in the league mid-season. Questions about how the team would handle this development dominated conversations around the league.
Just a few days later, it was announced that Coombe and Gotham FC would part ways prior to the conclusion of the 2021 season. The decision came as a relief to most fans, but also set in some level of worry. How would Gotham, a team that was already struggling, be able to make it into the playoffs without steady leadership?
From the Midwest to the East Coast
As it turns out, Gotham FC had already been looking for that perfect leader to come in and turn the team around. Enter, Scott Parkinson.
Parkinson had spent the last four years in assistant coaching roles in the NWSL, most recently as the first assistant coach of the Chicago Red Stars. But Gotham FC saw something else, something more than just his experience, that made him the perfect fit.
“It all just happened pretty quickly,” Parkinson told Jersey Sporting News. He had been working with an agent and hearing buzz around the league of possible job opportunities.
“I put together a resume with some testimonials from some pretty big players about what they thought of me, my record, my backstory, and who I was as a human and how I saw the game,” Parkinson said. “Then, I had a really, really good conversation with Yael [Averbuch West].”
In a press release from Gotham FC, Interim General Manager Yael Averbuch West explained that the search process was extensive. “After receiving guidance from ownership, talking to players, and considering an incredibly diverse and talented pool of more than 30 candidates, I’m thrilled to welcome Coach Parkinson as our next head coach,” Averbuch West said. “Scott’s knowledge of the game is impressive, and his passion is infectious. He’s the definition of a player’s coach and the perfect person to guide us to future success.”
I want to make Gotham an exciting, joyful, amazing place to play, and I told the team I think we can win.
Parkinson had multiple interviews with team ownership where he gave his thoughts on the club, their playing style, and what little tweaks he would make in the short term. He not only highlighted his professional skills, but also made sure they knew who he was on a human level.
“Out of nowhere, the offer came,” Parkinson recalled. “It probably all happened in about six days.” He never felt certain he would get the job over the course of the quick process, but decided that no matter what happened, he would use it as a learning experience. He planned to figure out where he made mistakes and make the most of the next opportunity. When he got the job, he was so excited. “It was shocking and surprising, but also a very amazing feeling.”
Once Parkinson took over, the team went on a tear. In ten games, club snapped their losing streak and went on to gather enough points to make it into the playoffs, sitting at 5th place at the end of the season.
The results are only part of the picture. A lot of hard work and passion that went into turning the club around and getting them to that 5th place spot, and Parkinson believes this is only the beginning.
A First Impression
The COVID-19 pandemic has added extra layers of precaution in all aspects of life, including necessitating the wearing of protective face masks while inside of the team facilities. Parkinson recalled meeting the players and staff for the first time in the locker room, and wishing he could see everyone's faces.
“It’s really difficult with the face masks to communicate with a group,” Parkinson said. “Ultimately, I just wanted them to know that I would take care of them, I would fight battles for them, I would have their backs, I’m not going to scream at them, I’m not going to berate them, I’m not going to abuse them."
Most importantly, Parkinson wanted to make sure everyone at the organization knew why he took the job. “I want to make Gotham an exciting, joyful, amazing place to play, and I told the team I think we can win. I think we can turn this around.”
As a man, it gives me more responsibility to show the world who men should be, and who I want to be.
He wanted to instill his belief in the group that not only could they make it to the playoffs, but they could win the whole thing. “I wish I could have seen people’s faces,” he said. “Were they smiling, or were they thinking, what is this guy even talking about?” Parkinson joked.
Going in, Parkinson had clear cut goals he was looking to implement. First, he wanted the team to be more solid defensively. Second, he wanted to be more of an attacking threat and play in from behind. Third, he wanted to be a team that focused more on transition. “I felt that this team got counterattacked a lot, but didn’t counterattack enough themselves,” he said.
Coach Parkinson saw a group of talented players, but wanted the team to be a bit more exciting. He put these simple goals on the staff and players, and decided to give it a run to see how it worked. And it got Gotham FC into the playoffs.
A Quick Postseason
Unfortunately, Gotham FC did not make it past the quarterfinals, losing 0-1 to Parkinson’s former team the Chicago Red Stars in a tactical match where one mistake was the difference between the two teams. Gotham FC dominated possession in that match, but Parkinson wants to work on not just holding the ball for the sake of holding it.
For Parkinson, possession can be overrated. He sees it as only a tool, and a means to an end. “In the quarterfinal game against Chicago, we had possession, but we didn’t use it as a tool,” he said. “We just had possession for possessions sake, and Chicago did a good job of shutting us down.”
Despite the loss to Chicago, Gotham’s newly minted head coach does not envision entirely changing up the team’s possession based style next season. “I think being more refined is what I would like to do,” he explained. “I would like to be on the front foot in all aspects of the game, whether we have the ball or we don’t.”
Men that are in the game right now have a job to change the narrative and support everyone that’s in the league, male or female, and try to right the ship.
Coach Parkinson sees promise for Gotham FC, even with the disappointing result. “If that is as scary as it’s going to be, and if that is the level of competition that we’re going to have, not to take anything away from Chicago, but we shouldn't be scared of nobody or nothing,” Parkinson said. “Chicago was good, but you don’t come away from it thinking we’re a mile off.”
In the future, he believes he could be more pragmatic, but sees this as a learning experience for the team that he just joined three months prior.
Even with a quick end to their post-season, making it into the playoffs was a huge success for a team that in the most recent seasons sat in the bottom two spots of the table. Parkinson is optimistic about the trajectory of the club. “I want to be exciting, score goals, and set up a team where the players really enjoy playing."
A Compassionate Coach
It is impossible to discuss the 2021 NWSL season without the context of the allegations made against former coach Paul Riley as first reported by The Athletic in September. Riley was most recently with the North Carolina Courage before he was fired following the allegations.
Coach Parkinson is very well aware of the role he plays as a man coaching in a women's league, and did not mince words on the importance of getting it right.
“My job is to hopefully help develop Bev [Yanez] and Becki [Tweed] to be the ones after me,” Parkinson said, highlighting the necessity for more women coaches in the league. He also stressed the importance of diversity at every level of the NWSL. “I think we need to do a better job of making the league, our staff, and our teams be more representative of the United States.”
It’s time to shift the focus to who we want to be next year as a culture, as a team, as a staff, and who in fact is going to be here to do that with us.
With that said, Parkinson understands that as a white male coaching in the league, it is his responsibility to bring in people who better represent the diversity of this country. “This is my career and it's the field I want to be in, so I need to balance that by trying to bring on people that look nothing like me,” he said.
Parkinson also recognizes the role he currently plays in women’s soccer. “As a man, it gives me more responsibility to show the world who men should be, and who I want to be,” he said. “Men that are in the game right now have a job to change the narrative and support everyone that’s in the league, male or female, and try to right the ship. I have a big responsibility, but I’m proud to have it, and I will try to do my best.”
This responsibility is not one Parkinson takes lightly. “I will make mistakes, I will get things wrong, and that’s fine. Humans do that,” he explained. “I understand that I have a big role to play, and I’m excited to have the pressure to play it in the right way.”
The Future of Gotham FC
According to Scott Parkinson, the NWSL is the best league in the world. “The best league in the world should attract the best players in the world,” he said. “Since the season has finished, my inbox has absolutely exploded with all types of levels of players from local college players to international superstars.” Gotham FC is well on its way to becoming the international destination that the rebrand purported them to be.
Well that was a fun 90 days (that happened out of absolutely no where 🤣)
Thank you to all of the players. Working along side you all is an joy and I’m VERY exited for our future! pic.twitter.com/RsDVlNCWY7
— Scott Parkinson (@parkinson_scott) November 10, 2021
The pragmatism of Parkinson will not allow him to get ahead of himself. “The club wants to be a destination club, and put on a product that the local community can be proud of,” he said. “But even though it sounds simple, it’s not, especially with internationals. They’re on a completely different calendar than the NWSL.” This can cause problems with trying to attract overseas talent to not only Gotham FC, but to the NWSL as a whole.
“It’s the weather in the U.S.,” Parkinson said. “A New York team getting a January game versus a California team, I just don’t think you can guarantee the game is going to be playable.” Even with the challenges posed by scheduling, the club still wants to be a destination for players from all over the world.
Attracting existing talent is not the only focus for the club. For the first time as head coach, Parkinson will have to contend with an expansion draft and a college draft next month. “It’s time to shift the focus to who we want to be next year as a culture, as a team, as a staff, and who in fact is going to be here to do that with us,” he said.
Gotham FC does not have to look overseas or collegiately to find players to step up next season. With young talent like Evelyne Viens and Briana Pinto, Parkinson sees more opportunity and more chances for them to get into the lineup with the departure of a few veteran players from the club.
“When you have a player like Carli Lloyd retiring and Gaetane Thiney’s loan finishing, out of nowhere there’s their chance,” he said. “It’s just part of being a younger pro, fighting for your spot, winning over a new coach, being better than you were the day before, and earning the right to play.”
The 2021 season saw a Gotham FC stacked with veterans, making it harder for the younger talent to break into the lineup. “Sometimes young players will do everything that they can do, but you’ll still have someone like Thiney or Lloyd putting it on you in training,” he said. “It’s tricky, but there’s been no time lost for them. They’ve been training and competing, so I’m excited to see what both of them do.”
Here to Stay
The New Jersey/New York area is a magical place, and Scott Parkinson is excited to be here. “I love the people, I love the diversity,” he said. Having previously lived in Oklahoma and Utah, he and his wife were eager to explore other areas of the United States.
The Parkinsons loved their neighborhood in Chicago, but they were excited to explore the New York metropolitan area. They had the option of living in the suburbs closer to the training grounds, but instead decided to move to Jersey City to be closer to the community feel they had come to love in Chicago. “It’s a great spot, we love it,” he said. “My wife and I are both vegetarian, and we can walk to plenty of vegetarian options." They appreciate how much there is to do and see both in New Jersey and in New York City.
With so much to do in the area, getting the community to games can be a tough task. Hopefully, Parkinson can help lead Gotham in becoming a top-tier soccer destination that attracts players to the club and fans to the stadium. The goal does not seem so lofty for the new coach, who was recently nominated for the honor of NWSL Coach of the Year. He definitely appears to be the hero that Gotham deserves.