Jeff Parke’s game-winning header against Sporting Kansas City in stoppage time at CenturyLink Field on May 21 was a big moment in more ways than one.
Seattle was just 3-3-5 at the time and while the game wasn’t a turning point – Seattle lost the next match to FC Dallas – it was a sign of things to come, as the Sounders would go on to win six games with goals after the 80th minute.
It was also another moment of confirmation for Parke, who had off-season surgery on his left big toe and a sprained left ankle that limited his mobility and explosiveness early in the season.
“It definitely gave me a boost and set me off on the right foot, so to speak,” Parke said.
Coming in to training camp, Parke was not quite comfortable with his fitness and did not feel 100 percent after being limited in his workouts because of the toe surgery. Once he was able to get back to his normal off-season routine, he found himself slowed still by high-ankle sprain suffered in the first leg of Seattle’s playoff loss to the LA Galaxy.
When training camp started, he worked hard to get physically fit for the long season ahead, but was still troubled with his ankle.
“You’re just thrown into it and it takes a while to get back into the swing and for me it took longer than most,” Parke said. “It’s frustrating. I didn’t feel the explosiveness. I felt like I had to use my right foot more than my left for everything. Even striking a ball would hurt it. You want to be able to do it, but your body just won’t let you.”
The problems with his lower left leg led to a dip in form that found Parke on the bench for four of five games leading up to the match against Kansas City. When he elevated high above the defense and nodded a Tyson Wahl corner kick to the back of the net, it catapulted him into Sounders FC lore, but also into a run of 19 straight MLS starts, stabilizing the Seattle defense.
In that span, Seattle went 12-3-4, jumping to second place in MLS with the same rigor that Parke leapt for the header against Kansas City.
Now, they are prepping for the MLS Cup Playoffs and a Western Conference semifinal meeting with Real Salt Lake beginning Saturday at 7 pm Pacific at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The second leg of the aggregate-goal playoff series will be Wednesday night at 7 pm at CenturyLink Field.
While they hit a few rough patches during the season, the defense is now in stride as they look to help Seattle to their first playoff series win in their third straight postseason appearance.
“It took us awhile, but we weren’t giving up a ton of goals. Guys made sacrifices to help lock things down,” Parke said. “There’s something special about this team. There’s a belief amongst the group. There’s a sense that there’s still more to be had. We have the best team I’ve ever played with and, I think, the best team in the league. It’s awesome to be a part of it and I can’t imagine being with any other team in the league. I believe there are a lot of things still to accomplish.”
Watch the first match in the playoff series live on Fox Soccer and hear Arlo White’s call of the match live on 97.3 KIRO FM.