By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — It’s easy to forget now, after two seasons, after being named the Sounders FC defender of the year in 2011, after his recent call-up to the U.S. national team, how close Jeff Parke was to never being a Sounder.
Parke, 29, is now one of Seattle’s veteran leaders, a stable presence on the back line, but less than two years ago, none of that seemed likely to happen for the center back who Seattle picked in the 2008 expansion draft.
Instead of becoming a force right away for the expansion Sounders in 2009, Parke was unable to agree to a contract and ended up with the Vancouver Whitecaps, then a USL team. From there Parke had a few brief and unsuccessful stops in Europe, and it appeared Seattle had wasted a pick in the expansion draft. But after training with the Sounders prior to the 2010 season, then leaving again without a contract, the two sides finally came to a deal in May of that year.
It didn’t take long for Parke to become a regular in Seattle’s defense, and now, two years later, he is one of the team’s top players as the Sounders prepare for the 2012 season.
“It is an unusual road, and one that we knew was a possibility, but had hoped to avoid,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “Obviously we hoped to sign Jeff immediately after taking him in the expansion draft, but it all worked out in the long run.”
Parke’s long road to Seattle actually goes back further than his inability to agree to a contract in 2009. A year earlier while playing for the New York Red Bulls, Parke and a teammate were suspended for 10 games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Parke has long maintained that the positive test was the result of an over-the-counter supplement, but that was the beginning of the end of Parke’s five-year tenure with New York. He felt like the club didn’t stand by him, and the Red Bulls elected not to protect him in the expansion draft following the season despite Parke being one of their top defenders.
“It’s been a long road,” Parke said. “You can never say it’s been easy. There have been ups and downs, but that’s life. When you talk to anybody, they’re not going to say the path they took to get somewhere was smooth, and if they do, they were lucky. But it builds character and prepares you for other obstacles that come your way in life. I feel like this has been a long time coming, but I’m working hard and trying to stay consistent.”
In his first two seasons in Seattle, Parke already did plenty to re-establish himself as an elite defender in Major League Soccer, but his career added another highlight earlier this winter when, after years of hoping for a chance, he finally got an opportunity to play for the U.S. national team. Granted this was not the national team’s top squad, and Parke appeared in only one game, but that moment was still special for Parke, particularly because of the twists and turns he has experienced in the past few years.
“It was real good, a great experience,” he said. “I’ll remember that and talk about it over the course of my life. It’s important to get in there and get recognized and get that chance. All in all, it’s special to put the jersey on and be out there amongst some of the best players.”
That experience, though brief, will only help Parke’s confidence as he heads into his third season with Seattle.
“Anytime you go to the national team, it’s going to help your confidence level,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “The exposure that you get, the respect you get for yourself, that your teammates have for you. … Anytime you go to the national team, I think it’s a plus.”
And heading into its first season following the retirement of three-year team captain and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, a more confident Parke will help fill the leadership void. While Schmid isn’t expecting any one player to replace Keller in regards to leadership, Parke is definitely one who will have to have a more outspoken role, particularly when it comes to organizing the defense.
“It’s a whole group of guys,” Schmid said. “Parke is one of the guys — more leadership from (Osvaldo) Alonso, from (Brad) Evans, (Fredy) Montero, as well, (Mauro) Rosales. All those guys are involved in that aspect. (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado) certainly talks a lot more, directs more. We expect the same thing from Jeff. The more leaders we have on the field the better team we become.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.