With preseason underway for NWSL teams, we took a look at the eight NWSL coaches and what will likely be the biggest challenge for each coach as they look to guide their teams to the first ever NWSL title. Here is Part 1 of our 2-part analysis….

Cindy Parlow Cone, Portland Thorns

After spending six seasons as an assistant coach under the legendary Anson Dorrance at the University of North Carolina (2007-2012), Cindy Parlow was named head coach of Portland Thorns FC on December 19th 2012. Parlow, a US Soccer Federation ‘A’ Licensed coach, helped guide UNC to three national championships (2008, 2009 and 2012) and an additional three third-round NCAA Tournament appearances in her time with the Tar Heels. Parlow was also the director of coaching for senior girls’ programs at Triangle United Soccer club in Chapel Hill, NC.

Parlow had arguably the most successful playing career of the eight NWSL coaches. She is a three-time Olympian with the USWNT, winning gold medals in 1996 and 2004, and was a part of the 1999 Women’s World Cup winning squad, where she started all six of the USWNT’s matches and scored twice. She was also a member of the 2003 Women’s World Cup team. In addition to her international success, Parlow won three national championships as a player with UNC, the team she would eventually coach, and won the MAC Hermann trophy in both 1997 and 1998. She is no stranger to women’s professional soccer as well, as she helped the Atlanta Beat of the WUSA reach the playoffs in each of its three years of existence.

“Cindy had a very successful playing career at the highest levels of the sport and is very well respected,” said Gavin Wilkinson, Portland Timbers general manager. “As a coach, Cindy is ambitious, and we feel she is the perfect fit to lead Thorns FC and help build the women’s game in Portland.”

Biggest Challenge: Parlow’s biggest challenge will be putting together a defensive line that is able to connect with the impressive midfielders and forwards signed by the Thorns, such as Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair. No effective link from the defense to the midfield means these two will likely not see the ball as much as they would like. Without confirmation of the signing of veteran defender Tina Ellerston, the Thorns’ defense will be their weakest area on the field, and in addition to not providing a link to the midfielders, this will create more scoring opportunities for opposing teams than Parlow would like. USWNT defender Rachel Buehler and free agent signee Nikki Marshall should provide defensive leadership.

Laura Harvey, Seattle Reign FC

On December 21st, 2012, Laura Harvey was named head coach of Seattle Reign FC. Harvey is a UEFA ‘A’ Licensed coach who has been coaching for over 10 years, most recently managing the Arsenal Ladies in the English FA Women’s Super League. Harvey helped turn the Arsenal Ladies into the powerhouse of English women’s club football in her time with the team from 2008 to 2012, most impressively winning three consecutive FA WSL league titles from 2010 to 2012. Harvey also has international coaching experience, having been an assistant coach for the England Women’s U-17, U-19 and U-23 youth teams.

Harvey played professionally for Birmingham City Ladies Football Club before rupturing her ACL and subsequently ending her playing career at age 22.

In a club release, Reign FC general manager Amy Carnell spoke highly of Harvey’s experience, adding, “As a proven winner with the ability to bring the best out of each player, Laura is the type of coach that a player wants to play for. Having managed some of the world’s best at Arsenal and within the English national team system, she is composed under pressure and clearly understands what it takes to bring home a championship.”

Biggest Challenge: Harvey enters the preseason with potentially the most challenges of all the NWSL teams. Hope Solo is set to miss three to four months as she recovers from wrist surgery, Megan Rapinoe will miss the first two months of the season while she completes a season with Lyon in France, and Amy Rodriguez announced she is pregnant and will not play this season; Rodriguez’ rights have since been traded to Chicago in exchange for midfielder Keelin Winters. Harvey will need to bring her team to within striking distance of the top half of the table at the beginning of the season, and then be able to effectively integrate Solo and Rapinoe back into the squad when they are available. If the Reign stay close to the NWSL leaders, they will be able to make a push for the playoffs in the second half of the regular season with the added USWNT talent of Solo and Rapinoe.

Rory Dames, Chicago Red Stars

A native of the Chicago metropolitan area, Rory Dames was named head coach of the Chicago Red Stars for the 2013 NWSL season after managing the team the previous two seasons. Dames lead the Red Stars to both the 2011 WPSL final and 2012 WPSL Elite final, but fell just short of winning the title both years, by a narrow 2-1 margin in overtime to the Orange County Waves in 2011 and in 2012 to the WNY Flash in penalties.

Dames has made a huge impact on youth soccer in the States, as he has served as Director of Coaching for the Eclipse Select Soccer club in the Chicago area since 1996. Repeatedly being named as among the best female youth clubs in the country, many of the Eclipse’s teams have won national championships, and players have gone on to play at the collegiate level and beyond.

Dames has valuable experience as a player as well, having reached the NCAA Final 4 with St. Louis University and playing a season with the former professional Rockford Raptors club of Rockford, Illinois after college.

In a recent interview with Chicago’s Daily Herald, Dames was optimistic about the success of the NWSL, saying, “When you’ve got multiple national governing bodies involved, you’ve got to feel good about your league’s chances to succeed. No one is in this because they think they’re going to get rich. They’ve always done it for the right reasons: to grow women’s soccer.”

Biggest Challenge: Dames’ current Red Star squad features many experienced players in all positions. Free agent Ella Masar and Mexican international Maribel Dominguez, as well as number one college draft pick and recent USWNT senior team call-up Zakiya Bywaters, should be a strong attacking force, while current USWNT midfielder Shannon Boxx, former USWNT midfielders Lori Chalupny and Leslie Osborne, and Mexican international Dinora Garza will form a midfield core with breadth of experience. However, with the news that USWNT defender Amy LePeilbet underwent ACL surgery in early February, Dames’ biggest challenge may prove to be depth in the defense. Dames will need to work with experienced Canadian defender Carmelina Moscato and free agent Taryn Hemmings to guide the younger and less experienced defenders he has signed, such as college draft picks Rachel Quon and supplemental draft pick Lauren Fowlkes.

Mike Jorden, Washington Spirit

Having been named head coach of the DC United Women’s team in their inaugural W-League Season in 2011, Mike Jorden will continue to coach the Washington area team, now called the Washington Spirit, in the NWSL’s inaugural season. As DC United coach, Jorden was able to lead the team to their first W-League Championship Final Four appearance in 2012.

A former district and state coach at the Virginia Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development program, Jorden has seen many of players earn college scholarships, and won two US Youth Soccer Region I titles in his ten years of coaching clubs in the Northern Virginia region. Tim Schweitzer, general manager of the Washington Spirit Reserves who will play in the W-League in 2013, has described Jorden as “one of the best coaches in the region, with a long track record of success in developing female players as well as winning.”

Recently, Jorden expressed excitement about his national team allocated players in an interview with Soccer Nation News: “These internationals bring world-class quality and experience both on and off the field. We look forward to them anchoring our club for years to come.”

Biggest Challenge: Through national team player allocation and free agency, Jorden has an experienced defensive and midfield core, provided that Canadian defender Candace Chapman is healthy and injury free. Jorden’s biggest challenge will be to establish scoring consistency with the forwards he has acquired through the supplemental and college drafts. US U23 players Colleen Williams, Tiffany McCarty, and Stephanie Ochs are the three young forwards Jorden will likely work to develop into consistent goal scorers this season. A key factor in his forward line could also be Natasha Kai, a former USWNT Olympic Gold Medal winning forward whom the Spirit acquired through the 2013 Supplemental Draft. Kai, who is reportedly recovering from a knee injury, would add attacking power for Jorden’s team, but official word on whether Kai will be available for the start of the NWSL season has yet to be made by the Spirit.

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Photos: Parlow Cone by UNC Athletic Communications, Harvey by ArsenalFC.com, Dames by Chicago Red Stars