Family came first.
That’s what led to defender Jeff Parke asking the Sounders at the end of last season to trade him to his hometown club of Philadelphia, where he could start a family with his wife closer to their parents.
Now Parke and the Union will be hosting Seattle this weekend, and it won’t be just another game.
The 31-year-old said there would be a special feeling on the field Saturday and that his time with the Sounders produced “some of the best memories I’ve had and some of the best soccer I’ve ever played.”
Parke was Seattle’s two-time Defender of the Year, and on a conference call with reporters Wednesday he had nothing but good things to say about his former club — particularly the fans.
“They do it right there. … It’s a special place to play,” said Parke, while adding that he plans to finish his career with the Union.
Here is a full transcript of Parke’s news conference from Philadelphia, with out-of-town reporters joining on a call, on Wednesday:
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(On if the game has any added meaning…) “It does, for sure. It’s always a bit of a challenge to play your old team, and when I was in Seattle and played against New York, it was a strange feeling. You come out with a little bit of a different kind of energy. You know the team, obviously, but you want to get a win so you can walk away and have some bragging rights for a while — or for the year because we only play them once. So it’s definitely a different game.”
(On if knowing the Sounders plays into things…) “It definitely does. When you prepare all week, you’re going to be talking about how we’ll go against this team and how we’ll prepare for them, and I’ve been around them for three years and know the team quite well. There will be some questions asked and things I’ll have to point out to help out in a way. But they’re a different group this year. Their backs are against the wall a little bit so it’s going to be a different feel and a different team. At the end of the day, it’s another game and we’re at home and we want to get three points.”
(More on what to expect from the Sounders…) “They’re going to play how they’re going to play. They’re going to come to attack and come to get three points, because Sigi doesn’t change much in tactics when it comes to home games and away games. That’s favored them in their history. We’re definitely going to have to expect that. They might be throwing different guys out there because of injuries or … to see different guys. He’s going to have them ready, and they’re going to attack and come after us. It’s about us matching their intensity and overcoming that. It’s going to be a tough game no matter how they’ve started the year; they’re a good team and they’ve got a lot of quality players. We’re going to have to be prepared for them, look at film, and recognize their tendencies and weaknesses and strengths.”
(On the Sounders struggles…) “We respect Seattle and we respect their players and their quality, and maybe they might be struggling, but they have quality and you have to respect that. You have to go out and we don’t want to give them any chances or give them any fire or anything they can build the game off with. Maybe the last two weeks we haven’t done our job to the best (we can as) a group, and we’re going to have to get back to that, get back to the grind and do the things earlier in the year that were working. It’s another game and a team that has kind of struggled, but at the end of the day they’re a team that you have to go out there and not let them jump on us and not let them be another team that got their groove because we let them get in the game and let them score goals.”
(On what needs to improve…) “More communication, being tighter to our marks, limiting their chances, obviously, and just getting after them and organize better. I don’t think as a group in the back we organized good enough last week and it showed in a game that was pretty spread out and they had more chances than we had given up to most teams. You can’t do that against a quality team like this. It’s important that we set the tone and be physical, because they have players that when they get space and time, they can hurt you.”
(On the game being extra special or just another game…) “It’s definitely a special one because I’m home and this is where my family is and this is where I’m from, and I you got Seattle where I played the last couple years and I have a lot of good memories being there. It’s a great organization and they do a lot of good things there, so it adds a little bit of a different feel. But at the end of the day I definitely want three points and I’m sure I’ll have a little bit more butterflies against guys I’ve played with. We have friendships, so it’s going to be a little bit different for sure.”
(On playing in front of two good fan-bases…) “For us here, we have the Sons of Ben and the fans and the supporters here are phenomenal. It’s one of the best places to play in the league. The passion they have behind our team and our club makes us want to give them our all. It’s something special when you can go out and play in front of fans like that. The crowd we have behind us, there’s so much that they give you. In Seattle, it’s kind of similar, but it’s just at a different mass because I think they have like 36,000 season ticket holders. That’s pretty special in itself. They do it right there. They get behind their team, too. They get behind their team and throw parades and they have the banners and they get on the opposing team. It’s a special place to play. I’ve been lucky enough to play in both these cities and I’m just thankful to be here now. This is my home and this is where I want to finish my career.”
(On how long it’ll take for him to fully get to know his new team…) “It’s definitely going to take time, because there’s so many things that happen in a season and so many things that go on. There’s good times and bad times, and it’s how you weather them and how you get through them — how you can rally the group and get back and focus — because there can be times when things are great and that’s when things are easy. But when times are hard, how can you focus the guys and get them back going and focused on the task and keep them motivated and keep them going and keep pushing and get back on a streak or get back out of a slump or whatever’s going on? There’s definitely some things I’ll have to learn and there’s definitely people I’ll have to understand their tendencies and understand their personalities. It’s takes a little bit. I’ve been around here for a while now, but it’s definitely going to take some time for sure.”
(On how the trade from the Sounders went down…) “I was grateful to be sent home. It was something that we had in the works. At the end of the season there, once the season was over, I expressed how family was first and how I wanted to be back in Philly and to be home with them. It was something that I have another four years maybe left in my career and I always wanted to play in Philly and end my career. Seattle was a great place, but just family came first and that’s how I organized it, and that’s how I asked for it to happen. And Seattle was very accommodating and made that happen for me.”
(On how he describes his time with the Sounders…) “For me, it’s some of the best memories I’ve had, some of the best soccer I’ve ever played and one of the best organizations I’ve ever played for. Looking back on it, there’s a ton of great memories with the fans and the organization. Won some silverware there and played on some good teams and was around some great players, so a lot of good things and I was very thankful for the opportunities. Now I’m on to my next chapter. This is home. It’s been a really great ride and was a great place to play.”
(On if things have gone how he hopes it starting a family near his parents and wife’s parents…) “Yeah, every week I can just scoot over to my parents’ house or my wife’s parents’ and they can come up and help. If we need anything, they’re always there. And they always get to see our little daughter, and that’s most important, because if we lived so far away, they’d only get to see her a couple times a year. Those are the times and those are the memories that I look at as a father and say, ‘This is why we live here and this is why I do what I do.’ I can look around and see her and see my family with her, and it just brings a smile to my face. It’s a really good feeling.”
(On if Star Wars Day was his idea…) “No. (laughs) I’m just a part of it.”