Mark Parsons will not return as head coach of the Washington Spirit for the 2024 NWSL season, the club announced Tuesday.

After leading the Spirit from 2013 until 2015, Parsons rejoined them for the 2023 season, leading them to a 7-9-6 record (W-D-L). He returned to the NWSL after a short-lived stint with the Netherlands women’s national team, which ended after a disappointing 2022 Euros campaign.

“We are grateful for Mark’s contributions in the 2023 season,” Spirit president of soccer operations Mark Krikorian said in a news release. “He helped lay a strong foundation and set us on a path to excellence. We wish him all the best in the future.”

After his first stint in Washington, Parsons left to be head coach of the Portland Thorns. He spent six seasons in Portland, winning the NWSL Shield in 2016 and the NWSL Championship in 2017.

There had been hope that he would bring those winning ways back to Washington, but instead the Spirit missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

“It has been a privilege to be back in Washington DC 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 news release. “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.”

Sophia Smith made a major statement in her final NWSL game ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, scoring a hat trick in the Portland Thorns’ 4-2 win over the Washington Spirit on Friday night.

“I have to go into this tournament as my best self, feeling like my most confident self and I knew this game was important in doing that,” Smith said. “If I were to leave this field and feel like I didn’t do what I needed to do, that would be a stressful time.”

The 22-year-old Smith scored her 29th, 30th and 31st career goals in front of 20,000 fans at Providence Park to become the youngest player in NWSL history to score 30 goals (a record previously held by Sam Kerr).

All three of Smith’s goals were beauties, as the star forward gave a clinic on how to manage multiple defenders and still find the back of the net. (A video highlight is embedded below.)

“When I’m dribbling towards the goal, if I see a sliver of an open net, I’m taking a shot. Recently I’ve had some good luck with shots from distance, so I’m going to keep doing that,” she said.

RELATED READ: Sophia Smith and a singular drive for soccer greatness

Washington’s goals were notched by Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez, while Morgan Weaver added the Thorns’ only non-Smith-scored goal of the night.

Smith said she wanted to leave the Thorns in a good position heading into the next few weeks as the team will be without at least six players during the World Cup: Smith and Crystal Dunn (USWNT), Adriana Leon and Christine Sinclair (Canada), Rocky Rodriguez (Costa Rica) and Higa Sugita (Japan). The Thorns currently sit atop the NWSL standings with 25 points, while the Spirit are in second with 23.

“Our mindset going into this (game) was that we needed a clear and good win, playing as ourselves, playing as the Thorns that we know,” Smith said.

Spirit head coach Mark Parsons also had high praise for Smith’s performance.

“I thought we turned up and were fantastic in being brave, and making this more like a game that we wanted to control,” he said.

“But we played against Sophia Smith. And she was world class tonight.”

Smith did her postgame press conference alongside Sinclair, the two players trading banter ahead of a potential North American showdown at the World Cup. Canada ousted the U.S. in the semifinal round of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, though Smith was not a member of the U.S. squad at that tournament. The 22-year-old will be playing in her first major tournament for the USWNT this summer after leading the team in scoring in 2022.

Sinclair said she’d love to see the U.S. and Canada play at the World Cup, especially because the two teams would end up on opposite sides of the bracket so long as they make it out of their respective groups.

“Based on that path, that would mean we’d be playing in the World Cup final, so why not? Let’s go for it,” Sinclair said.

She then added, with a laugh: “Maybe not if (Sophia) was in the form she was in tonight. Maybe she can just chill out a little bit.”

The Portland Thorns will fight to stay alone at the top of the NWSL standings when they face No. 2 North Carolina Courage on Sunday.

For the first time in months, after the Tokyo Olympics and a string of injuries, the Thorns had a full week of training as a team. They will return to the field after their game against the Washington Spirit scheduled for last Saturday was postponed due to four positive COVID-19 cases on the Spirit.

In North Carolina on Sunday, Portland will look to avoid another loss to the Courage, who won 2-0 in the teams’ first meeting this season.

“It was really great for us having everyone back together and having a good training week,” said Thorns midfielder Natalia Kuikka. “I liked it, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did, too.”

While reuniting has been good for the team mentally and emotionally, head coach Mark Parsons believes readjusting to a full roster could be the Thorns’ biggest hurdle against the Courage.

“It’s the most challenging part of the year for a team that has such a true identity like us,” he said. “So, I think it’s important for us to know it’s not going to be perfect. We’re not going to be perfect on Sunday.”

He believes the goal is to keep getting better. So far, Portland has met that challenge.

“Since the last time we visited North Carolina, it’s scary how far we’ve come,” Parsons said.

Three of the Thorns’ four losses this season came in their first seven games. Since then, they’ve won six of 10 and haven’t lost a lead in the month of July. They’ve also played more games than most NWSL teams, having won the Women’s International Champions Cup in late August.

Getting in a full week of training “has been critical” for the Thorns, who have been in a cycle of recovery during their last couple of matches. The team had two days off after their 2-1 loss to OL Reign on Aug. 29 and just three days of training leading up to the postponed Spirit match.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is coming off two straight draws against Washington and last-place Kansas City.

While the Thorns have more points in fewer games played, their goal differential of 13 matches that of Courage. Parsons said earlier in the season that Portland’s first match with North Carolina was a test the Thorns needed.

“That was the first or one of the only times we felt we were matched in how we see the game and the things we value,” he said on Thursday, reflecting on the loss. “I think it was a very even game.”

North Carolina, however, had been a bigger threat in the 18-yard box.

“When we break that down we simplified it by one team being a bit more dangerous once they got into the right spots, and the other team wasn’t so dangerous,” Parsons said.

The Thorns and Courage will kick off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.