SEATTLE — A veteran like Jeff Parke knows a thing or two about gaining an advantage in the penalty area. Before Saturday night’s stoppage-time winner in Seattle’s 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City, the match highlights clearly showed the center back whispering some sweet nothings into the ear of match referee Geoff Gamble.
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The message? Parke said after the match that he had asked Gamble to keep an eye on Roger Espinoza, who had been getting a little handsy in the penalty area.
“It was good because Jhonny [Hurtado] and I worked off each other well,” Parke said. “With me saying something to the ref, and [Espinoza] knowing that the ref’s keeping an eye on him and he can’t hold on to me, I got freed up and Tyson [Wahl] put a great ball in there.”
As Parke began his run, Hurtado stepped in front of Espinoza, providing a clear path to the ball. While such behavior certainly flirts with what’s allowed under the Laws of the Game, all players know that that an infraction is only a foul if the referee blows his whistle.
Gamble did not, and the Sounders walked away with the three points.
As for the header itself, Parke at first worried that the shot didn’t have enough steam to sneak in. However, with no defender covering the back post, the ball nestled into the net as Parke made a bee line toward the Sounders bench to celebrate.
One could forgive him for not having a pre-planned celebration, as it was just his second career goal. His first came nearly seven years ago, on June 12, 2004, against the San Jose Earthquakes in Parke’s rookie season with the MetroStars.
Coming off a disappointing draw against the Portland Timbers, coach Sigi Schmid was happy to send the capacity crowd home with a victory in a match where Seattle tallied only two shots on goal.
“Can we play better? Yes,” Schmid asked rhetorically. “Do we like the three points? Yes.”
For a team often victimized by opponent’s set pieces, Seattle’s coach was pleased to see the scales tip in his favor. Schmid revealed that he had actually singled Parke out before the match, asking him for the last time he had scored on a set piece.
“When games are tight, it makes a difference,” Schmid said about scoring from set pieces. “Over a season’s time, if you can get — between free kicks and corners and penalties — six to 10 goals, all of the sudden now you sway a game here or there.”
Beaming in the locker room after the game, Parke joked about keeping a copy of the game footage to prove to his progeny he had, in truth, actually scored in his career. The fact that he had initially struggled to recall the last time he had scored in MLS play tells one all that is needed about his scoring prowess.
For the Sounders, the confidence gained from the set piece goal will carry over into Wednesday’s game against FC Dallas.
“We emphasize it every game: Let’s get a goal on set pieces, a corner or a free kick,” Parke said. “It’s important because it can change games and obviously tonight it did. It got us the points.”