Keaton Parks seizes Open Cup opportunities to "show out" for NYCFC

WASHINGTON – Keaton Parks has played just 55 minutes in MLS this season, as he’s spent the first half of his loan year at New York City FC trying to polish the offensive side of his game. Coach Dome Torrent has been looking for more defensive consistency out of the 21-year-old Texan from Benfica.

And in a pair of standout U.S. Open Cup performances, both men are seeing the results they want.

After hitting a second-half brace for a youth-laden squad against the USL Championship’s North Carolina FC in the previous round, Parks again played 90 minutes, this time as part of a stronger squad, on Wednesday. And he cleverly set up Alexandru Mitrita’s equalizer in NYCFC’s 2-1 fifth-round win over D.C. United at Audi Field.

In the process, he believes he’s giving Torrent plenty to think about.

“Of course I want to play – everybody wants to play,” said Parks, who has made only five league appearances for City this season, all off the bench. “These last two games have been my opportunity and I’ve shown out. So I’m just going to keep doing my job and see where it takes me.”

Parks said Wednesday’s assist, which came only six minutes after Wayne Rooney had put the hosts in front, was the result of an improved understanding of his new teammates. It was Heber checking back to the ball – bringing defender Fred Brillant with him – that opened the space for Mitrita, and Parks read the situation perfectly.

“With new players, it’s always hard to get used to,” Parks said. “But throughout the season, we’ve been working together. And I’ve been able to read their movements and everything. I’ve definitely been increasing my attacking mindset. And I’ve got two goals and an assist in the last two games, so it’s been working out.”

Perhaps those decisions are becoming more second-nature, allowing Parks more room to think about his defensive responsibilities. After featuring as part of a three-man central midfield against North Carolina, Torrent trusted Parks with more defensive responsibilities as the only central partner to Maxi Moralez on Wednesday.

“He has quality technically,” Torrent said. “But in the last month, he has improved quite a lot when we don’t have the ball. It’s about that. And as a result he convinced me in the last month that he deserved to play.”

Without their own USL club or an obvious nearby affiliate, the Open Cup minutes have been a critical opportunity for Parks to prove his worth to a club that will need to decide whether they want to try and retain him beyond this season.

“I don’t really think about my loan a lot,” Parks said. “I’m here in New York City. So I’m just here to do my best, get ready every day, help the team win, help the team win trophies, hopefully. And then I’ll be ready to go back to Portugal, or if I stay here, I’ll be ready for next season.”

More evenings like Wednesday, and Torrent may have no choice but to give him more run in league play.

“I hope so,” Parks said. “I’m just doing my part. And if I get a chance, I get a chance. But I’m just going to keep doing the best I can.”