Ex-Sounder Parke has mixed emotions playing old team

TUKWILA — During his tenure in Seattle, Jeff Parke was never afraid to speak his mind.

The former Sounders defender is as honest as they come when fielding questions on just about any topic. So, it’s hardly a surprise that, as he prepares to face his former team for the first time, he’s not going to try to convince you that the game is, to use an old sports cliche, “just another game.”

Playing for the Sounders provided him with “a lot of good memories,” he said, and he enjoyed some of his best seasons in professional soccer while a member of the team. So no, it won’t be business as usual on Saturday when Seattle travels to Philadelphia to face the Union, Parke’s new team.

“It’s definitely a special one,” Parke said about the game while talking with reporters on a conference call. “… It definitely has a different feel, but at the end of the day I definitely want three points. I’m sure there will be more butterflies because it’s against guys I’ve played with, we have friendships. It’s going to be a little bit different, for sure.”

Leaving the Sounders was not easy for Parke, who spent the past three seasons in Seattle and was named Seattle’s defender of the year each of the past two. He asked for and was granted a trade to his home-town Philadelphia Union to be closer to family. He and his wife are from the Philadelphia area and they had their first child. Both his and his wife’s parents are also in the area, and for Parke, having family around for the final few years of his career was the No. 1 priority.

“I was grateful to be sent home,” said Parke, who played college soccer at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It was something that we had in the works. At the end of the season there, once the season was over I expressed how family was first and how I wanted to be back in Philly to be home with them.

“I have another four years maybe left in my career, and it’s something where I always wanted to play in Philly and end my career. Seattle was a great place. It was just family came first and that’s how I organized it, and that’s how I asked for it to happen, and Seattle was very accommodating and made that happen for me.

Although Parke was the team’s top defender, the Sounders were still willing to part ways with him in the offseason for two reasons. For starters, Parke asked for the chance to play closer to home, and as Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said, “as a club, our philosophy wasn’t to keep him hostage here. It was out of family reasons that he wanted to go back, so we acknowledged that and gave him that opportunity.”

Secondly, Parke’s desire to leave gave the Sounders an opportunity to free up some salary cap space. Following the end of the 2012 season, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer admitted that his team was going to be cap-constrained heading into this year. So when Parke, the team’s highest-paid defender, wanted to leave, money also became a factor in the decision.

“We never want to lose a good player from the organization, but I think I said it back then: Sometimes family trumps soccer,” Hanauer said. “In this case, there were enough issues and we’d had enough conversations where I felt the right thing to do was to try and work this out with Philadelphia.

“And in the end we think it was a fair deal. As you guys know, we had salary cap issues as well, so something was going to have to give in terms of working our salary cap. So, we didn’t like losing Jeff, but I think it ended up working out.”

Because Major League Soccer plays an unbalanced schedule, Saturday’s game is the only meeting between the Sounders and Union this regular season. So, Parke won’t get the chance to return to Seattle and re-experience the fans here.

“They do it right there,” he said, praising the fans. “… (Seattle is) a special place to play.”

Injury update

Schmid said forward Eddie Johnson (hamstring) made it through the week of practice fine, indicating he will likely be available for Saturday’s game. Schmid said his other starting forward, Obafemi Martins (knee), is getting better, but acknowledge Saturday may be too soon to Martins to return to game action. The status of midfielder Steve Zakuani (groin) and defenders Djimi Traore and Marc Burch (undisclosed injuries), who were all limited in training, is still up in the air.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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