The defensive standout had his Sounders FC career delayed after a 10-game suspension for a banned substance and then prolonged contract negotiations.
TUKWILA — Nearly a year and a half after being selected in the 2008 MLS expansion draft, Jeff Parke finally signed with Sounders FC on May 13, 2010.
The 18 months in between were filled to the brim with frustration.
It started with the fallout of an MLS-record 10-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance — he said the result of taking an over-the-counter supplement. Upon what he perceived as denigration from the league and a lack of support from his former team, the New York Red Bulls, Parke thought it best to pursue options abroad.
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Trips to Belgium, France and Germany didn’t quite produce the right fit and, all the while, contract negotiations with MLS and Seattle went slowly, at best.
Amid the aggravation, the idea of starting over with an expansion team was hard to grasp.
“Obviously I had no clue what the Sounders were about,” Parke said. “You look around the league and most teams that just come in are at the bottom of the table.”
Turns out Seattle was the best fit after all, and despite the difficulties, the two sides eventually agreed to terms.
It has been a perfect union ever since as the 29-year-old center back has established himself as a mainstay for the Sounders defense. Parke’s 36 starts this season in all competitions — MLS, CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup — are tied for third on the team and his often unheralded contributions have helped put Seattle in place for an MLS Cup run.
“To be a part of something this great, to win trophies and win 18 games, I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” he said. “It’s been an incredible ride and definitely exceeded expectations that I had in what could happen here.”
Parke was one of the Sounders nominees for 2011 MLS Defender of the Year. He was also one of two defenders leaguewide to win MLS Player of the Week this season, an honor won in May after his stoppage-time goal led Seattle to a 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City.
“He’s been very steady for us,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “It’s disappointing that he ended up having to miss that year (in 2009) because at this point I think he’d even be further along.”
It’s easy to wonder “What if?” when it comes to Parke’s delayed start with the Sounders.
The native of Downingtown, Pa., was in and out of camp in 2009 and 2010 as he fought to get a deal he thought was fair. The uncertainty surrounding Parke’s status, however, never became a huge distraction.
“That’s all part of pro sports,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. “It comes down to how you act once you’re in with the squad. I think Jeff has worked really hard on the practice field and in games, and that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Now that Parke has reestablished himself at the club level, he has set his sights on more.
One nagging annoyance throughout a productive seven-year MLS career is that he has never gotten looked at, even briefly, by the U.S. men’s national team. While in New York, Parke had a rocky relationship with coach Bob Bradley — who later went on to lead the U.S. from 2006 until being fired in July — so he knew chances would be slim.
Fortunes haven’t yet changed under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“It bothers me a lot, actually,” said Parke. “I always wonder why I haven’t even gotten a sniff or been brought into a camp. … It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but it’s all a part of the game. Some guys stand out and other guys are just those guys who put in the hard work and don’t get seen.”
Appreciation isn’t the issue with the Sounders. Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson said Parke has come a long way and the team is very happy with him. That cuts both ways as Parke, who has one year left on his contract, is hopeful of working on an extension.
Negotiations this time should go easier.
“I’m here now and this is where I want to be,” said Parke. “This is the club I want to be a part of and I’ve loved every minute.”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org