Keaton Parks’ uncommon decision is paying dividends

Like so many younger American soccer gamers, Keaton Parks left the nation to pursue a professional profession.

Within 4 years, he was again.

The present panorama of American soccer makes it such that the act of returning is much more curious for a younger, highly-rated participant than fleeing. When the United States males’s nationwide group confronted Panama on Monday with an average age of roughly 22, each single starter got here from a European membership.

That makes Parks, who has made only one senior US cap, considerably of an anomaly. But after ending his second MLS season as a nailed-on starter, it’s clear there was some logic behind his grasp plan.

“I think people sometimes question why I decided to come back to the US. I mean there was this huge movement in US Soccer where everybody thinks you gotta play in Europe to be at the top and all that,” Parks mentioned. “And to a certain degree, they’re right, but it depends on the player and the situation and the opportunity.”

For Parks, it’s clear that his present “opportunity” with NYCFC, who play Orlando City within the playoffs on Saturday, is paying dividends. Since arriving in 2019 from Portugal by way of Varzim after which Benfica, Parks has began 34 MLS matches, successful over two totally different coaches in Domenec Torrent and Ronny Deila. Performances apart — and Parks has been spectacular this yr — the transfer has afforded him the common first-team soccer he craved after making simply 4 league appearances for Benfica.

“It just wasn’t right for me to stay there [at Benfica] and play with the B team for more years,” Parks mentioned. “It just wasn’t the right opportunity, I wasn’t gonna grow as a player there and it was just best for me to come back here. And I think people still question that, still wonder why I made that decision, and it’s just a player-by-player thing and what opportunities come about.”

Keaton Parks
Keaton ParksGetty Images

Though Parks has grow to be an everyday fixture on the NYCFC aspect, it’s truthful to surprise if he’s changing into a sufferer of his versatility. Though he now seems the a part of a prototypical defensive midfielder at 6-foot-4, Parks grew up as a brief No. 10 and views himself as an attacking participant. He’s managed to flash these qualities from deep — he has three targets this yr and is fifth on the group in “shot-creating actions” per FBref — however it’s nonetheless value questioning whether or not his present position maximizes his strengths.

“The vision that Keaton has, I tell you this with all the responsibility — there is not one single player in the national team right now that has the vision that Keaton has,” mentioned Armando Pelaez, Parks’ longtime youth coach and a former MLS assistant.

“To me, they’re making a mistake by not allowing him to be and let him be a box-to-box player. Because they say, ‘yeah, he’s a box-to-box,’ but he’s not. Because I know him, and I know what he’s capable of doing.”

For his half, Deila did name Parks a “box-to-box” participant on Wednesday and mentioned the decision to play him as a No. 6 (15 times this season, per Transfermarkt) or extra superior 8 (seven occasions) is largely right down to how the opponent units up. Still, he supplied no indication that he sees Parks because the primarily attacking participant that he grew up as.

“I’m very attacking minded, and I’ve had to adapt to start defending more over the last few years of my career,” Parks mentioned. “So it’s been onerous for me to do this. I feel I’ve carried out very nicely this yr to grow to be extra defensive and play a greater defensive position throughout the group.

“I definitely see myself as more of an offensive player. And here in training I’ve been working a lot after training — working on my finishing, and getting into the right spaces to score goals and affect our attack more. So I definitely see myself in that role, but like I said, I’ve been in a more defensive role this season and I’m ready to do either side, play either side of the ball for whatever the team needs. But yeah, I definitely feel more comfortable [in] and want to play an attacking role.”

If Parks continues growing on the present rate in MLS, the requires his inclusion with the nationwide group will develop louder. This was at all times the tough a part of his return to the US. Parks finds himself competing with (and presumably behind) a bunch of European-based gamers, and must carry out in such a fashion in MLS that any qualms about his relative stage of competitors are quashed. It’s removed from the primary calculated gamble he’s taken.

“I do believe that I am at that level, I could be called up for that,” Parks mentioned of the nationwide group.

“There’s a lot of talent in Europe as well that are all American and can all be called into the national team. So it just makes it more of a challenge. But at the same time, I know they do look at the MLS and I think it’s just up to our performances as individuals, and earning that call up over the guys in Europe.”

While Parks mentioned he’s not spoken lately with nationwide group supervisor Gregg Berhalter (who intentionally left gamers on MLS playoff groups out of his most up-to-date squad), he mentioned there have been discussions with U-23 supervisor Jason Kreis concerning the upcoming Olympics.

For now, he has a playoff recreation to win, and much more to indicate in accordance with his former coach.

“What we have seen [of] Keaton,” Pelaez mentioned “is basically maybe 60 percent.”


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