WASHINGTON – You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Then again, sometimes you don’t really need to.
After an abysmal 2013, D.C. United set out to reshape their entire roster. Chief among their concerns was a defensive overhaul, particularly at center back, where former United defenders Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald had become somewhat unreliable.
United didn’t have to look far to find their solution. They acquired Jeff Parke, 32, in a trade with the Philadelphia Union, sending homegrown defender Ethan White up I-95 in exchange for the veteran, a calculated – and at the time somewhat unpopular – risk aimed at producing immediate dividends. Parke joined fellow MLS stalwart Bobby Boswell, 31, whom United had selected a month earlier in the re-entry draft.
Both players brought years of experience to the table – nobody doubted that. But some observers of United wondered if Boswell and Parke, a defensive tandem with more years of MLS play than any other in the league and a combined age topped only by Seattle and Vancouver’s center back duos, could keep up with the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Dominic Oduro or Darren Mattocks.
D.C.’s investment has paid dividends. Parke and Boswell have proven to be among the league’s best in 2014, putting to bed most of those concerns.
"I was a young guy when I came in the league and I made a lot of young mistakes,” Boswell told MLSsoccer.com after United’s training session on Tuesday. "At this point, there’s not a whole lot that’s going to be thrown at us that [Parke and I] haven’t seen before.
"As far as age goes, it’s pretty hard to duplicate game-time experience. I still feel young, Jeff still feels young. We don’t even talk about age, to be honest with you.”
United head coach Ben Olsen sees a similar picture.
"They’ve been around this league for a long time,” he said of his center back duo. “They know the guys coming in, they know who they’re going against, they know the attitude they’re going against. They seem to have a good relationship on the field now – they’re covering each other, they’re covering the outside backs, they defend the box as well as anybody in this league.”
Though United had a promising young back in White and still had fellow Homegrown Conor Shanosky on the books, time was of the essence to a team that had won only three games and allowed more goals than nearly any other team in history. In Parke and Boswell, Olsen and United GM Dave Kasper saw an opportunity to shore up their back line in the near term.
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"I’d rather have two guys that have been around than two guys who have the potential to be good,” Parke said on Tuesday. “Especially a team that came off one of the worst years they’ve ever had. You need guys that have been around the game and know what it takes to battle through and push through a long season.”
Parke and Boswell’s experience comes in handy on a roster that still features a wealth of young talent, something Olsen was certainly aware of when he signed them.
“As an older and more experienced player, there’s a handful of us here who are trying to help the younger guys get better,” said Boswell. "We’re a big family, we all like each other. Ben has done a really good job of guys who get along. What you guys see out here is just part of it. We want what’s best for everyone, honestly.”
“[Parke and Boswell] help me,” Olsen concluded. "They’re older guys, they’ve been around the block, they get it. They know how to prepare some of the younger guys for what’s ahead."