SEATTLE – For Jeff Parke, it felt like his odd journey through the soccer hinterlands had come to an end. Called in for his first camp with the US national team in January, he earned his first cap at age 29 as a second-half substitute against Panama on Jan. 25.
A month after the fact, the Seattle Sounders defender still smiles when recalling the moment.
“It’s something I’m going to cherish,” Parke said. “Maybe I’ll get called up again, but that’s not something that I’m looking at right now. I’m just happy that I got called in and got a chance to spend some time with some of the better players in this league.”
“At the end of the day, when you go home and talk to your children and your grandchildren, [you can tell them] that you got to put on the jersey for your national team,” Parke said.
After a two-year journey that included a stop in USL and a few failed trials in Germany, the rugged central defender finally signed with the Sounders and claimed a spot in their rearguard midway through the 2010 season. Since then, he’s been a fixture, starting 28 MLS games in 2011.
After his spell in the lower divisions and some ill-fated trials overseas, Parke was a soccer nomad, paying his own money to live in Germany while attempting in vain to find an employer. Nothing came easy. But now that the Pennsylvanian finds himself once again in a good place, he reflected on the time between his dismissal by the New York Red Bulls and the moment he decided to come back to MLS.
“It seems like I always learn things the hard way,” Parke mused. “Sometimes it’s not the right way or the way anybody likes to, but I guess that’s the way I learn.”
With his place secure in Seattle and his days as a nomad in the past, he says the national team call-up felt like redemption. Fully established as the defensive leader for one of the league’s best backlines, Parke can look forward to building on his partnership with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in the center of Seattle’s defense in 2012. The unit gave up a respectable 37 goals last season, up from their total in the 30-game 2010 season but still good enough for fourth-best in the league.
As for Parke himself, he thinks his off-the-field struggles have made him a better player.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster ... but it’s made me stronger, given me some character and made me realize how important certain things are,” he said. “The journey through life isn’t always easy.”
“You need to battle, you need to keep going and keep your head held high,” he added. “Good things will come from it, as long as you stay positive and surround yourself with good people.”