TUKWILA, Wash. — Looking at Seattle’s recent turnaround, it can be easy to look at Fredy Montero’s stellar contributions on the offensive end as the primary reason for the team’s success. Not to be lost, however, is the drastic improvement of the team’s defense.
Since giving up three goals to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Independence Day, the Sounders haven’t allowed more than one goal in any competitive match. In league play, they’ve only conceded twice in the past five matches.
Jeff Parke, who has assumed a role in the starting lineup after the injury to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, credits the turnaround to team defense. According to Parke, the defensive effort has started with the team’s forwards and has permeated the entire lineup.
“It’s not just the back four that have started cleaning things up, it’s been the whole team from top to bottom,” Parke said. “I think the forwards have really gotten after it defensively and are starting to work harder. The midfielders are working to force guys and pressure guys, which makes it easier for us.”
Parke, along with central defender Patrick Ianni, have done their part by locking down the middle. It’s a remarkable pairing, considering that Ianni began the season on the bench while Parke was unsigned. However, Ianni rose above Tyrone Marshall on the depth chart and Parke finally agreed to terms with the club, ending a lengthy holdout which saw him play parts of the 2009 season with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For Parke personally, the extended absence from regular competitive soccer resulted in rust. The former New York standout signed on May 13, a full 19 months after his rights were acquired by Seattle in the 2008 Expansion Draft.
During that time, Parke played with the Whitecaps and also attempted to catch on in Europe, trialing with Germany’s Fortuna Düsseldorf and FC Augsburg before eventually coming to terms with Seattle.
According to Parke, it took a few games to get his confidence back.
“I was basically a year off from games,” Parke said. “Training was tough because it’s not like you can just get up and go play with a professional team somewhere. The confidence was really important because it was lacking it for sure. You know what you’re abilities are and you can play, but you’re not quite there mentally or physically.”
Since he’s been in Sounders green, Parke quickly moved into the starting lineup and has formed an excellent partnership with Ianni. The duo has been especially effective against the larger forwards in the league. Against Conor Casey of the Colorado Rapids, one of the most physically imposing players in the league, Ianni and Parke took turns knocking Casey to the turf. The result: Casey was kept off the score sheet as Seattle notched a 2-1 victory.
Head coach Sigi Schmid said his center backs have done a good job of keeping it simple and feeding off each other’s strengths. They’ve also done a good job of marking the forwards, making sure that when they check back to the ball they can’t turn.
As they’ve gotten more familiar with each other, Parke has come to appreciate Ianni’s style of play, which can be physical.
“He’s a good communicator and he has a good understanding of where to be on the field,” Parke said of Ianni. “As I said, he’s aggressive so that makes it easier. You know he’s not going to drop or be in between; he’s going to go or maybe clean the guy out.”