Jeff Parke Image

True Grit

After setting aside his rugged demeanor to sit on the bench for a stint, Jeff Parke has returned to the Sounders starting lineup with vigor.

Jeff Parke is known for his toughness.

He’s played moments after gruesomely dislocating his finger in a match at Qwest Field last year against Toronto FC.  He shook it off when he was hit in the face by a rocket of a shot from mere feet away earlier this season, sending the ball flying from the top of the box to midfield.

The look of an old West gunslinger with his five o’clock shadow is no façade – he is a rugged, hard-nosed player.

Earlier this season, though, he and fellow center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado had to put their toughness and pride to the side as they recovered from surgeries and sometimes had to take a seat on the bench to give the affected area time to recover.  In Hurtado’s case it was a torn ACL in his knee that knocked him out of the majority of the 2010 season.

For Parke, though, it was an under-the-radar surgery in the off-season to remove bone spurs from his big toe.  He was recovered in time for the start of training camp, but experienced swelling and pain in the toe early in the season.

Even still, he started and played 90 minutes in the first six matches of the season, sometimes stepping gingerly on the left foot that had surgery.

After six matches, he found himself on the bench for four of the next five matches, replaced by Patrick Ianni, who also worked well with Parke in four starts together this season and over several matches in 2010.  In that time, he ran the gauntlet of emotions.  He was agitated that he wasn’t in the starting lineup, but also realized that he may have needed the time off.

“It’s still frustrating because you want to play,” he said.  “Once you see the bigger picture, things get better.  Maybe I needed a little rest to get my game back.”

He realized that in a team sport, personal sacrifice is often required for the betterment of the team.

“If you don’t want to deal with that, you go into tennis or golf,” he said.

Now in much better health, he has started the clubs last five matches and has paired nicely with Hurtado, building on the cohesion they developed in the preseason.

“You want to know and feel comfortable and build some confidence with the group.  Once you start getting some reps in and getting games in, you know how the other guys are playing and where they’re going to be,” he said.  “As the games have gone on, the communication has gotten better and the guys have gotten a better understanding and we’re a bit more solid in the back.”

Like his toughness on the field, his sense of humor off of it has also drawn attention lately through the club’s Video Dating ad campaign.

In Parke’s spot, he jokes, “Sure I’m intense, but that’s not all I am.  I’m sensitive too.”

He then introduces his puppy, deadpanning, “His name’s Pain Machine.”

The commercial has become viral – one fan has even started tweeting as Pain Machine (@Pain_Machine) – and Parke has enjoyed a laugh with his teammates.

“People are tuning in.  It’s all fun and that was the point of the commercial – to get people laughing and talking about it,” he said.

The idea came in a brainstorming session with the creative minds of Wexley School for Girls – the marketing firm that joined with the Sounders to create the spots.

“It was on a whim.  We were throwing things around and I said something about Pain Machine and they said, ‘That’s it’,” Parke said.  “They’re geniuses though and it turned out good.”