When he first found out Philadelphia was awarded a Major League Soccer team, Jeff Parke remembers exactly what he thought.
“I was in New York then,” the longtime MLS defender and Philadelphia-area native said during a conference call with reporters on Monday, “and was kind of going like, ‘Oh man, how do I get back there?’ It was something I wanted to be a part of.”
It took a few years, but Parke finally get his wish last Friday when the Union traded allocation money and a supplemental draft pick to acquire the nine-year MLS veteran from Seattle.
Parke had previously played for the Red Bulls, the Whitecaps and Sounders after starring locally at Downingtown High School, club powerhouse FC Delco and Drexel University.
“For me, I’ve grown up here and have been around the Philadelphia area my whole life,” Parke said. “I really haven’t left the area until I became a pro. It’s great to be back and to actually come full circle.”
Parke’s reasons for wanting to come back are simple. This is his home and this is where a lot of his family lives. And with his wife giving birth to their first child three days ago, family has never been more important.
“My family has always been saying, ‘You’ve got to get back to the Union and play in front of your home fans,’” Parke said. “It’s always been a goal of mine and a dream of mine. It’s something we’re all very excited about and very thankful it’s finally come true.”
Because of his wishes to return home, Parke requested a trade from Seattle – a request which was granted, even though he was named the Sounders’ Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
Union manager John Hackworth noted the trade negotiations were a “long process” but one that the club really wanted to get done – not only because Parke is one of the league’s best center backs, but because of his desire to play in Philly speaks to the kind of loyalty and passion he’ll have when he first puts on a Union kit.
“We want players that want to be here,” said Hackworth, who granted a similar wish to Sébastien Le Toux last week. “Every part of being a professional athlete makes a little more sense when a player is happy, when a player comes to work with a smile on his face and with something to prove.”
And now that Parke is here and happy, he doesn’t want to ever leave.
“Hopefully I can finish my career,” Parke said, “at the place where I started it.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.