Keaton Parks had options this winter.
The 21-year-old American midfielder at Benfica impressed with the club's B team over the past two years but couldn't get a regular foothold in the starting XI of the Portuguese powerhouse. After fielding a few loan offers from clubs in Europe, Parks opted to join NYCFC on loan for 2019.
Currently in Abu Dhabi for preseason training with his teammates, Parks is a long way from home -- Plano, Texas -- as well as a long way from his soccer home -- Lisbon, Portugal.
“NYCFC are a great club," Parks told MLSsoccer.com why he chose NYCFC. "The coaching staff is very experienced – Domenec [Torrent] has a lot of experience in Europe – and just the club itself has a great reputation. It was the most appealing to me and I’m glad I made this decision.
“It’s just the best opportunity for me right now," Parks added. "The league is very strong, it’ll be good for me to grow as a player. I’m training hard, working hard to get my fitness so hopefully I can earn a starting spot on this team. It’s just another opportunity for me to grow as a player.”
Parks is open to extending his stay in the Bronx further than the agreed upon year, though there was no option to buy in the clubs' loan agreement, but he also has one eye on his parent club.
“I love Benfica, I’d love to play for their first team but I’m also just focused here now with NYCFC and preparing for this season," Parks admitted. "It’s in the back of my mind, but my main focus is here and getting ready for this season.”
While focused on 2019 and the task at hand, Parks is ready to play anywhere in the midfield, be it in a defensive, box-to-box or attacking role.
"These last few years at Benfica have taught me a lot about playing defensive mid, but I grew up playing attacking mid my whole life," Parks said. "I think I have the knowledge and the capabilities to play both positions, I’m just here to do what’s best for the team. Wherever they need me, I’ll be happy.”
Parks steps into one of the deepest and most talented midfields across the league, with Alex Ring and Maxi Moralez likely to lock down two of the starting roles. Behind them, Ebenezer Ofori figures to feature into Torrent's plans again while talented Homegrowns James Sands and Justin Haak on top of Juan Pablo Torres, another US youth international regular coming back from Europe, will be pushing the established veterans.
Competition for minutes will be fierce, but it's nothing Parks isn't used to.
“I’ve seen the talent of all these guys, having so many talented guys on the same team will help us all grow individually," Parks said. "It’ll push us to work harder every day, as a team and as individuals we’ll grow a lot. If I don’t earn my spot, that’s okay because that means someone else worked harder and earned it over me.”
However the midfield rotation breaks down, Parks has high hopes for 2019.
“[My goal is] to win MLS Cup, simple as that," Parks asserted. "I want to play as much as I can but in the end, it comes down to the team and getting wins. Whether I’m playing or not, I want to help the team get wins.”
If Parks does get on the field regularly, he could soon figure back into the plans of the US national team. He admits he hasn't yet spoke with new head coach Gregg Berhalter, but maintains the USMNT as a goal.
“It’s in the back of my mind. Of course I’d love to play for the national team again, that’s my dream," Parks said. "But I’m just focused on doing my best here, and hopefully that’ll lead to something with the national team again, but I’m just focused here.”