Late bloomer Parke feels he's a better fit for USMNT now

TORRANCE, Calif. – These are heady times for Jeff Parke, who is coming off his finest season as a pro and is headed home to Philadelphia following a desired trade last month from the Seattle Sounders, a move that came one day after his wife, Jennifer, gave birth to their first child.

Now he's back in Southern California with the US national team, his second straight January camp, with the prospect of important international games – World Cup qualifiers and next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup – in his sights.

It's reward for an eight-year MLS career that has seen his rise from youngster with potential to one of the foremost center backs in America, and he hopes to demonstrate to US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann over the next couple of weeks that he belongs in the national team mix.

“The qualifiers coming up are huge, so it's important that guys get fit and get ready and back in the swing of things,” Parke said. “Because if your number's called, you've got to get up and be with the full team in a couple weeks [for the Feb. 6 World Cup qualifier at Honduras], and if you're not part of that group, then there's a lot of other games coming up that you can be part of.”

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Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi parlayed last year's January camp into regular first-team appearances, and Parke, who has started more than 200 MLS games with New York and, the past three seasons, with Seattle, would love to follow in their footsteps. He's also looking to help take on a leadership role with the Union, who this offseason also added veterans Sébastien Le Toux and Conor Casey to a young group.

“I was pushing for [the trade], because it's time for us to settle down and set our roots, and it's important to have our families and have the help you need when you have a little one,” said Parke, who grew up about 30 miles outside Philadelphia and attended Drexel University.

“I need to realize it's about family now. I've sacrificed, but mainly my wife and her family, my family, have sacrificed just because we haven't been around. It's great we can be there and be around our parents and our family and have our little one [a daughter, Camille] grow up around them.”

He says last January's camp played a huge role in his success last season, “being amongst that and the confidence you get,” and Klinsmann saw it, too.

“Jeff played a very consistent, good season ... took that opportunity last January and stepped it up and played very consistently with the Sounders,” the US coach said. “That's what we want to see. Even if it's not going to be the big jump right away into World Cup qualifiers, a very important component of this January camp is to teach players how to be consistent in what they're doing on and off the field.”

Maturity has helped, too.

“The longer you're around the game and the more you understand it and the more you see and read the game, the better you can become,” Parke said. “It's trial and error. My career, it wasn't always a steady ship. It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me, and the last couple years have been a lot more steady.”