Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
It's not terribly often that Jeff Parke contributes on the offensive end. The industrious Seattle Sounders defender, in fact, is quick to acknowledge as much.
In his seven MLS seasons, Parke has been one of the more durable commodities the league has to offer, starting at least 20 games each campaign. The 6-foot-1 centerback, however, has just two career goals and a handful of assists.
So as a Sounders squad loaded with attacking talent faced the Chicago Fire on Oct. 4 in the U.S. Open Cup final, it's doubtful anyone figured Parke would end up facilitating the match's opening goal. But when the 29-year-old steered Erik Friberg's corner kick on goal in the 77th minute, the shot forced a save from Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson, and Fredy Montero was on the doorstep to fire home the rebound.
"I don't get too many chances," Parke said. "But I definitely love to contribute in any way I can."
The tally put Seattle on its way to a 2-0 win that gave the franchise its third Open Cup crown in as many seasons. As Parke explained, that consistency "says that you're a team that is sound, that you've built a great organization, a great base."
"There are not too many teams that can say they have hardware," he added. "When other players want to come to this country, if you go to a team that has been around for 15, 20 years and has nothing, it's kind of hard to recruit guys in. This team has only been around for three years and it already has trophies."
That it does. When it comes to balancing the pursuit of hardware in multiple competitions, the Sounders have quickly established themselves as the league's gold standard.
In addition to claiming the Open Cup this year, Seattle clinched passage to the spring's CONCACAF Champions League knockout phase. In MLS play, the Sounders have compiled the league's second-best record.
There nearly every step of the way has been Parke, ever the sturdy, reliable veteran.
"He is helpful in organizing and also is solid when he's on the ball, and he makes good decisions," Seattle defender Patrick Ianni said. "All of those things come from experience."
Parke is not a four-time World Cup veteran like Kasey Keller, who mans the posts behind him, or a former MLS Defender of the Year finalist like Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who regularly partners with him in central defense.
But the Pennsylvania native is second among Seattle field players with 35 matches started in all competitions this year, trailing only holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
"If you're playing a lot of games throughout the year, your club is doing something right," Parke noted. "We're not here for just the season and that's it — just go home and call it a year. You want to play in tournaments and as many of these games as you can because this is what you live for and what you get paid for."
While one would imagine the grind of those extra fixtures taking its toll on even the most upbeat of personalities, not much seems to faze Parke.
"From my perspective, he's always smiling," Ianni said. "He's a really enjoyable character in the locker room."
Parke's year, though, hasn't been without its bumps in the road. He had to exit Seattle's 2-0 loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 8 with a concussion and was subsequently held out of last weekend's 2-1 triumph over San Jose.
Parke returned to the pitch for Seattle's Champions League clash with Mexico's Monterrey on Tuesday, logging 67 minutes. Always the optimist, he figures being sidelined for a few days could be a blessing in disguise as his club looks ahead to the playoffs.
"It's definitely a good thing to get a bit of a rest right now — we've played a lot of games lately," Parke said. "I never want to step out of the lineup because I just want to keep playing. So that part is difficult. But sometimes, your body needs a rest and your body needs to recharge."
In 2008, Parke could only watch as his New York Red Bulls fell to Columbus in the MLS Cup while he served a 10-game suspension for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug. Three years later, he is hoping to finally see the field in an MLS Cup, now playing for a Sounders side that enters the postseason as the Western Conference's No. 2 seed.
Although he's approaching 200 games played in his MLS career, it's the one he hasn't played in, of course, that matters the most.
"It's what we play for, and it's what I play for," Parke said. "At the end of the day, when you look back at your career and your life as a player, you would hope you can either be in one or win one.
"You'd like to brag about it someday and hopefully have one to show — a ring and a big trophy in pictures — and look back when you're done and say, 'Wow, I had a great run and great things came from what I've done and all the hard work I've put in."