Most of Keaton Parks‘ teammates had already made their escape from the New York City Football Club’s Yankee Stadium locker room following Friday night’s decisive 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Instead, Parks remained behind as he received treatment for a thigh contusion picked up in a collision late in the match.
About one hour earlier, Parks had been visibly limping as he saluted the NYC fans upon exiting the pitch.
But with his wound patched up, the lanky Texan was free to dress in his club issued NYCFC Blue suit and white shirt. As he did, Parks noticed a lone scribe awaiting a word and graciously nodded his ascent as he turned away from the privacy of his locker.
About Keaton Parks
First, a little background on Keaton Parks.
The 21-year-old Texan had just completed his sixth consecutive start for NYCFC after waiting weeks to work his way into coach Dome Torrent’s competitive lineup. Now with N.Y. talisman Maxi Moralez’ immediate status somewhat uncertain after leaving Friday’s game with an injured calf, Parks’ role with the team is only likely to grow.
Parks’ loan signing caused a ripple of excitement in the off-season, not just amongst NYCFC supporters, but also with the subset of USMNT fans dedicated to scouring various league’s around the world in search of the rare undiscovered gem, the one player that has somehow flown under the radar and is eligible for a call up.
A few years ago it was New York City-born, Miami raised Fa Fa Picault. Fa Fa was found scoring goals for FC St. Pauli in the Bundesliga 2. Picault quickly earned a cap in a friendly versus Puerto Rico and then a move to the Philadelphia Union, where the winger has established himself as a regular starter. He’s since contributed 20 goals and 11 assists in 72 appearances, 62 of them starts.
Picault has added just one more cap to date but the search continues, even as flying under the radar becomes more and more difficult in this age of YouTube highlights and streaming services.
Most recently, Tyler Boyd earned a Gold Cup nod when he was unearthed playing in Turkey for Ankaragücü on loan from Portuguese side Vitória de Guimarães. After throwing in his lot with the USMNT, Boyd’s new international pedigree helped the goal-scoring winger earn a transfer to Turkish Super Lig power Beşiktaş from where the New Zealand-American will attempt to establish himself further in Gregg Berhalter’s plans.
As for Parks, a run of four games with the Benfica first team got the lanky Texan noticed, eventually leading to one full national team cap to date. He’s now earning consideration for a place on the Olympic team, and a season-long loan to NYCFC.
I asked Parks if he had been surprised or frustrated by how long it took for him to work his way into the NYCFC lineup?
“Yeah,” Parks began, “I mean, it’s always difficult coming into a new team. There’s a lot of returning players this year. A lot of starters returning. Dome was comfortable with the lineup that he had. So, I mean, I knew it’d be difficult, I knew I’d have to earn my chance, my opportunity, my spot on the team.”
Parks was honest enough to admit to High Press Soccer that he did feel frustrated at times. “Oh, yeah, it’s always frustrating. I mean, all the guys that don’t play, we’re always frustrated. You know, everybody wants to play. That’s why we’re here.”
Torrent pleased with Parks
During his post-game press conference, I asked Torrent about Parks and the coach said that “Keaton is playing much, much better.”
“I remember,” the coach remarked, “I say to him after the game against the Galaxy, I said, you are so close to playing (more regularly).” That Galaxy match was played on May 11, a 2-0 N.Y. win, and Parks was not that close, except for the US Open Cup.
Parks piled up 180 minutes of Cup play in seven days in June, grabbing his opportunity by scoring two goals and adding an assist. Orlando eliminated NYC from the Open Cup on pks on July 10th, with Parks neatly tucking his peno away, and Parks has been a 90 minute a match man since.
Parks has shown himself to be clean in possession, versatile enough to play in a deeper central midfield role, or more forward, as Torrent mentioned with Moralez potentially missing some time. In the Open Cup, Parks also displayed a good goal-scoring touch and some deft passing ability.
After struggling for playing time, Parks said he’s just happy to be on the field. I asked him if he is ready to move up the pitch, should Moralez miss any time. “Yeah, I’m prepared for that. Yeah, I mean, I’m always prepared for whatever Dome needs. If Maxi (Moralez) ends up being injured for longer than they want, obviously, maybe I’ll move up into an attacking midfield spot, but yeah, I mean, I’ll be ready for whatever he needs me for.”
How long will Parks be with NYCFC?
Of course, it should be noted that Parks is with NYCFC on a loan. He got together with his once and future (?) teammates when Benfica defeated Fiorentina 2-1 Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.
And while Parks is fully engaged with NYCFC, he has by no means cut ties with the Lisbon giants. “I went to go see some of the guys and the coaches and the staff and everything. And yeah, they’ve been keeping in touch and following me and following my games, and that I’ve been starting a lot. So, they definitely keep in touch.”
There is no option to buy in the loan agreement between NYCFC and Benfica, but anything can happen in this game. Parks makes it clear that he is enjoying his time in New York, saying, “Yeah, I love it here. I love this team. I love the club. It’s been awesome.”
However it turns out, the well-traveled 21-year old seems prepared to handle it. “I don’t know exactly what will happen right now,” Parks concedes, “I’m going back to Benfica in January. And that’s all I know.”
Up next for NYCFC
NYCFC are off for the MLS All-Star game. They return on Sunday, August 4th away against Real Salt Lake.