Sounders FC defender Jeff Parke weighed options in Europe before finally deciding to come back and try to get a deal done with his Major League Soccer team, four months after being chosen in the league's expansion draft.
TUKWILA — In the end, Jeff Parke came back. Back to the United States, back to Seattle.
He’d been here in December, not long after Sounders FC chose him in the Major League Soccer expansion draft, for contract talks. But those broke off, and Parke decided to try his luck at a free-agent deal in Europe.
Two months later, Parke, a central defender who celebrated his 27th birthday Monday, has finally reported to Sounders FC after opting to not pursue those opportunities. He’s the only expansion draftee without a contract with MLS, which signs players on behalf of teams.
Parke played in Friday’s reserve game for Seattle, his first action with the team after arriving in town Thursday. He watched his old team, the New York Red Bulls, get clobbered by Seattle in its season opener. He practiced Monday at Starfire Sports Complex.
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All of this, after tryouts with two first-division teams in Belgium, Anderlecht and K.V. Mechelen, earlier this year. He said he could have remained in Belgium but chose to return to America.
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, as they say,” Parke said. “The situations that I was in were difficult and I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where it was unpleasant every day.”
Parke can’t play in any games until his league-imposed 10-game suspension is complete. He was suspended for violation of the MLS substance abuse policy last year. Parke missed six games, including the Red Bulls’ playoff run, in 2008, and this year’s opener. He will be eligible to suit up when Seattle plays at Chivas USA on April 18.
Parke and Sounders FC executives can start contract negotiations immediately. Parke was energized by the atmosphere and support from fans at sold-out Qwest Field Thursday and the urging of his friend and Sounders FC teammate, Taylor Graham.
“It wasn’t a matter of me not liking the city or not liking this area or the team or the franchise,” Parke said. “At the end of the day it’s tough because my whole career, I’ve been, basically, at a salary where I feel I need to grow. For a professional, in order to get better, you have to have certain things to help you get better, and that’s just one of the things I believe I needed to help me.”
Parke said he meant no disrespect to Sounders FC by not signing right away, but needed to take care of himself and his family, and going overseas was and remains a dream to him.
“I saw what it was like, and I know I can play at that level, but there’s certain things that needed to be taken care of here for me,” he said. “It’s a matter of going home and saying ‘You know what, I feel appreciated,’ and that’s where I was at.”
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said he wished he would have had Parke, a sixth-year MLS veteran, with the team 2 ½ months ago. “But he’s here and now we have to figure out how he factors into the whole equation, and that’s going to take a little bit of time,” Schmid said.
• Forward Fredy Montero was named MLS Player of the Week for his two-goal, one assist performance in Seattle’s win Thursday.
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org