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January 28, 2012 at 4:04 PM

A stop and chat with Jeff Parke

parke mug.jpgSounders FC defender Jeff Parke has had a wild January so far. He got called into U.S. men’s national team camp as a replacement early on and then earned his first cap in Wednesday’s 1-0 win in Panama.

He’s back with the Sounders now and put in a training session with the group at the VMAC on Saturday. Afterward he chatted with reporters and here’s the transcript of that conversation:

* * *

(Was it all you hoped it would be?) “Yeah. It was probably the longest preseason I’ve been a part of. Yesterday was my first day off. It was nice, but that’s what it’s all about. You battle and you see what it’s like to be at the highest level among some of the better players in the league.”

(Where were you when you got the call?) “I was sitting on my chair in my bedroom, watching I think ESPN or something like that, on (Jan. 3) and they were trying to get me in that night. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. I got to go right now?’ I said, ‘I’m not even ready.’ They called me back later and were like, ‘We’ll get you a flight tomorrow morning,’ and I was like at least I got the night to say my goodbyes to my wife and her family and everybody else around. It was exciting.”

(Were you surprised? What were those emotions?) “I was definitely surprised, because at that time I’m 29 … and it was a younger camp. I felt like an old man because most of the guys were like in their early 20s and there were maybe four of us over 25. Surprised, but relieved and excited and also nervous, because now you’ve got one chance to impress. Even though I wasn’t in the best shape I went in and did what I could.”

(What’s the takeaway moment? The phone call? Putting on the jersey? Getting the call to go in the game?) “I got the call like at the last second. I was sitting on the bench (getting ready to warm up) and all of a sudden we get a red card and I’m like, ‘Oh (shoot). Here we go.’ I was like, ‘I know my number’s going to be called soon,’ and I literally took two steps and they’re like, ‘Jeff!’ and I was like, ‘Oh, here we go…’ I didn’t even stretch. I barely did anything. Just turned around, ran over, stood there for a sec and waited for my jersey, put it on and got out there. Give it your best. Then I was thinking in my head, ‘Oh shoot, we’re also a man down, too. Even better.’ The team was all over us, we were a man down, but I’ll remember it the rest of my life.”

(Did you get any first-cap swag?) “I got a little pat on the back and a nice ball signed by the guys and went down into the basement where we were eating and that was it.”

(What was the reception afterwards from friends and family?) “Oh yeah. Texts. Emails. Old players. That was the main thing, old players and friends that I haven’t talked to in at least two or three years were saying congratulations. I totally forgot they even watched soccer. I was like, ‘Geez, a lot of people ending up following (me).’ But I think it was in the papers back home. I think that’s how a lot of people ending up finding out. I have a lot of people to get back to, but I guess that’s part of it.”

(Do you get the sense you left them with a good impression?) “I wish I went in knowing the whole time that I was going to be in there, because then I could’ve been ready and prepared. But I guess that’s just the story of my life — everything that comes my way (is kind of when) I’m not fully prepared. It was definitely a ride that was worth taking and a chance I wanted to take and go with. You obviously have the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m not ready. Could you cover for me? I don’t know if I can go at this time.’ But I knew this might be my only chance and there’s only time. I went out there and give it whatever I had and everything I was willing to give. I thought I went in there and did as much as I could. I gave them at least some impression that I’ve worked hard and I’m a person that can go in and be reliable. If you ever need me, I can come in and do the job. Hopefully they see it the same way.”

(What were the emotions after the first game and being the only field player that didn’t get in?) “I was frustrated. I was definitely frustrated because you go your whole career and you’re not used to coming off the bench as much and you’re not used to not even being called on. It’s definitely tough. I also realized that I was one of the last guys to be brought into camp, so you have to pay your dues and suck it up. Some guys don’t even get to play at all during camp. I think if the red card didn’t happen I don’t even know if I’d have seen the pitch at all, because the way Panama was all over us it would’ve been tough to throw in a defender at that time. When I didn’t get in I was kind of frustrated, but I was also thinking there aren’t too many times you get called into the national team, to be in camp and to be a part of something this exciting and represent your country. As long as I was out there and watching the game on the field and being a part of the group, that’s all that mattered to me at the time.”

(How much were these camps in your mind in previous years?) “It always is. Every time the January camp comes around, I’m always thinking (about it). And I thought, ‘I had a pretty good year. Hopefully I’ll be recognized this year. Maybe I can get called in and try to do what I’ve worked my whole career for, to be recognized and be a part of the group.’ People have different views and opinions. It’s tough to say because there are so many players and after going through it all you say, ‘Geez, there are tons of players.’ You start looking at them and looking at the positions and you’re like, ‘Wow, there are a lot of good players at each of these positions,’ so just to be called in to be a part of the group is good enough for me right now.”

(Any impressions on your first day back here?) “It was quick-paced out there. It’s definitely a bunch of new faces and a bunch of new players that we have to get used to and understand and work with. I guess that’s why we go to camp and go away for a couple weeks, to get to know everybody and to be amongst just us and buckle down and start working out the kinks — get out there and try to form a group and be a good team. Arizona will be the first step. It’s sad to see some of the guys go that were here last year. They’re well missed now. You forget about them at first, but then you get out there and you’re like, ‘Wow. A lot of guys that were here last year are gone.’ It’s a little bit upsetting, but you have to move on. It’s all part of the profession. Hopefully this year is a good start for this camp.”

(How about Gspurning?) “I thought he was (going to be) a little bit wider, but he’s definitely about 6-4, 6-5. I’m used to Keller behind me — bald head and about my height, maybe a little bit smaller. Now it’s looking up now.”

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