Jeff Parke’s life is about to take a drastic turn.
On the field, he is playing in his first Conference final after several successful seasons with the New York Red Bulls and Sounders FC. He is also a big reason that the Sounders have reached the Western Conference Championship, which starts on Sunday against the LA Galaxy with the first leg at The Home Depot Center. So much so that after the Sounders outlasted Real Salt Lake with a 1-0 series victory, head coach Sigi Schmid said that Parke is “playing the best soccer of his career.”
However, that’s not nearly the paramount experience that will change Parke’s life.
His wife Jennifer is due with their first child later this month. And while it could be a stressful time, Parke says his wife has been an inspiration, shouldering so much of the pressure of becoming parents while Parke focuses his energy on being successful on the field.
“It’s such a milestone in my life and such an important time. My wife has been amazing through this whole pregnancy,” said Parke, 30. “Unfortunately I haven’t been able to be a part of everything because of our schedule, but we have great support at home and we have great family, so it’s not something that overwhelms us.”
While “father” is a title that Parke looks forward to adding, so is “MLS Cup champion.” To get that, he must first get through the LA Galaxy. And the feeling he gets the first time he holds the new addition to his family will be one that he’s never experienced before. However, Seattle’s victory over Salt Lake may do something to prepare him for those new emotions.
“It was such a great feeling to come out of the game on Thursday and get the result we needed to get to the Conference Final. I’ve never felt that way about soccer – that joy,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling and I want to just keep pushing and getting results and get to the final.”
Parke was among a defense that flourished against Real Salt Lake, but has also been remarkable against the LA Galaxy over the last two seasons. In five meetings with RSL this year, they allowed just one goal. Meanwhile, in five meetings with the Galaxy over the last two seasons, they have let in just two goals with three straight shutouts sandwiched between 1-0 defeats.
The Sounders were also the top defense in the Western Conference in 2012 and the top defense among the four teams remaining in the MLS Cup playoffs after Sporting Kansas City was eliminated by the Houston Dynamo.
It’s a rejuvenated defense that regained their form once goalkeeper Michael Gspurning returned from a hip injury late in the season.
“I think our defense has played well all year,” Schmid said. “We’ve done a good job of making sure that we close down dangerous spaces and limit opportunities. Sometimes we are like a willow – we bend a little bit and we give away a little bit of possession, but at the end of the day it’s important not to give away the chances.”
The Western Conference Championship series opens Sunday at 6 pm at The Home Depot Center, with the return leg coming on November 18 at CenturyLink Field. Tickets for the match in Seattle are available at SoundersFC.com.