Not long after the Philadelphia Union’s 2013 season ended, Jeff Parke met his coach, John Hackworth, for coffee and asked to be traded. The veteran defender was not unhappy with Hackworth, the organization or playing time.
Just a year earlier, in fact, Parke had sought a move to his home town from Seattle for family reasons. Now he wanted to leave for family reasons.
“It was a difficult decision,” he said this week. “It’s not easy to want to go home to your family and then to tell them it’s a little much and I have to go away again.”
On Saturday afternoon, as a starting center back for D.C. United, Parke will return to PPL Park for the first time since the Union honored his wish.
“It’s going to be a different game, a different feel, for sure,” he said.
About 15 family members and friends will come see him play in his one official visit to the area — a more desirable arrangement than last year. It’s not that he and his wife, who is also from Philadelphia, didn’t enjoy seeing their families; they are close-knit clans, he said. Living there full time, though, was not what he and his wife had hoped.
“When you live at home, it’s a special place,” said Parke, who attended Philadelphia’s Drexel University. “When you go away and then come back, it’s not the same as it used to be or the picture you once had of it. It wasn’t as sweet as it once was.”
With a young child and another on the way at the time, Parke and his wife wanted to forge a life of their own. They had discussed it for months, and when the Union’s season ended, he approached Union management.
“It was a tough choice for us because we didn’t have plans to lose Jeff,” Hackworth said. “But that happens in this league. It’s part of the business, and you have to deal with these things when they came up.”
In exchange for Parke, the Union received defender Ethan White (no appearances this year) and the No. 1 position in MLS’s allocation order, which is implemented when U.S. national team players and returning foreigners sign with the league.
With it, Philadelphia claimed American midfielder Maurice Edu, who had left Stoke City in England’s Premier League. In addition to Parke, United received Philadelphia’s No. 6 place on the allocation list. With the Union taking Edu and Seattle grabbing Guatemala’s Marco Pappa before the season began, D.C. is now No. 4 on the list heading into the summer signing period.
In the offseason, United had prioritized upgrading the center-back corps. For several years, with the exception of the 2012 playoff campaign, “a lot of mistakes at that position were costing us points,” General Manager Dave Kasper said.
United addressed the problem by selling Dejan Jakovic to a Japanese club, acquiring Parke, 32, and captain Bobby Boswell, 31, and selecting Steve Birnbaum with the second overall pick in the college draft. “Jeff fits all the things we’ve been looking for,” United Coach Ben Olsen said.
Parke, in his 11th pro season, says he is in a better place overall.
“Things started adding up over time,” he said of living in Philadelphia. “It gets to be too much. Everyone wants to see the kids. You are literally driving 40 miles west, 40 miles north, 40 miles back to the city all the time. It gets annoying after a while.
“We actually spend more quality with our families now than when we were at home.”
United notes: Forward Eddie Johnson has recovered from a hamstring injury, but defender Sean Franklin (foot) remains out. . . . Philadelphia (1-4-5) is winless in eight straight; United is carrying a 21-game winless streak in regular season away matches.