WASHINGTON – D.C. United center back Jeff Parke has a unique perspective on some of Major League Soccer’s biggest rivalries.
The 10-year MLS veteran has plied his trade on both coasts, entering the league in 2004 and spending several years with the the New York Red Bulls – then the MetroStars – before heading west for a number of productive years in Vancouver (in their USL First Division days) and Seattle. For nearly a decade, Parke took part in a couple of MLS’s most fiercely contested match-ups: the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Cup and its East Coast equivalent, the Atlantic Cup.
United are set to welcome the Red Bulls for the opener of the latter competition’s latest iteration on Saturday evening (7 pm ET, MLS Live), and Parke is set to take the field against his former club in a D.C. kit for the very first time.
"We were always on the losing end up in New York,” Parke told MLSsoccer.com after United’s training session on Friday morning. “This is when the D.C. teams were just so good – It’s good to be down here and see this side of it now. I know up there every time we payed D.C. we hated them, wanted to beat them."
"From [D.C. United's] fans and players, it was always a scrappy, disrespectful kind of game. They never looked at us as a tough team – they pretty much knew they were going to beat us.”
The gap that’s grown between the Atantic Cup and some of MLS’ newer, sexier rivalries has been caused by a myriad of factors, not the least of which are financial – more bodies in seats, larger television numbers. To Parke – who spent two years in central defense for the Sounders – Seattle’s rivalry with the Portland Timbers, which dates back to the 1970 in the old NASL, is fueled by something even stronger: hatred.
“A lot of the [Portland and Seattle] fans just honestly hate each other,” Parke said chuckling. "It’s also the history – there’s a lot more history in the Portland/Seattle rivalry. Every time you talk to a Seattle fan up there, they’re like, 'Portland is scum.' You ask a Portland fan and they’re like, 'Seattle is scum.' They flick you off when you’re in the bus, throw stuff at the bus, kids curse at you.
"The Red Bulls-United one is more players and clubs. The fans, maybe they don’t like each other, I don’t know. You don’t hear about it as much out here – but up there, it’s hatred."
Parke spent 2013 with his hometown Philadelphia Union, a spell that gave him some insight on the club’s rapidly-growing rivalries with their I-95 neighbors, D.C. and New York.
"I think the D.C.-Philly rivalry is the more contested of those two," said Parke. " I know when I played for the Union we were always eager to play D.C. The fans would always talk about how they hadn’t beaten D.C. at RFK, [and] they always geared up for that. It was always a chipper game. Philly-NY was more finesse, while D.C.-Philly had a lot more bite.”
As for Saturday, Parke is eager to face his former employer. He’s surrounded not only by other veterans, but by a crop of younger players who might not fully understand the rivalry, something he says he’s eager to change.
“We’ve talked about it all week, but until you live through it and play through it, it’s different," said Parke. "I was on the other side, so I obviously understand it, I played in it and battled through it. They’ll get a taste of it on Saturday – they’ll see that the fans get feistier, louder.
"They’ll understand it."