Newly-acquired Philadelphia Union defender Jeff Parke spent a few minutes chatting with local reporters in a conference call Monday morning. Here are some highlights.
On what it means to come back to the region where he grew up:
It's a dream come true. Once the Union was a team in [Major League Soccer], it was always a goal of mine to be a part of their club, [and] to help them become a force in the league. You know that being an expansion team, it takes a while.
I've grown up here and been around the Philadelphia area my whole life - I reallly hadn't left until I became a pro. It's amazing to be back, and to actually come back full circle, and hopefully finish my career in a place where I started it.
On how his family reacted to the news, especially in light of the fact that he and his wife just welcomed a new baby:
Everybody's thrilled and starting to get the buzz. My wife just had our first-born three days ago. We're so happy that we're now with the team, and we can rest and get ourselves ready for the upcoming season, and be focused on living here and being part of the area again.
But most important is to get the little one some sort of routine, and get myself ready for preseason coming up.
On what he can bring to a young Union team as a veteran player in MLS:
It will help, as I've been around for a while now. I've seen the ups and down and how the league works. [I hope] to give the young guys some confidence when they need it, and [to be] the guy who says, "Sometimes things aren't going to be right." As long as you have some veterans, you can weather it and show the young guys the ropes.
I think [the Union] have some really good players and some quality in the back four. Their team defense was one of the better ones through out the year [in 2012]. It's a good team that I'm coming to – I just hope to add to it and help the team get better.
As a rookie you don't take it in, you kind of go off emotion. Sometimes as a rookie you try to do a little too much. You're all over the place, and not really focuising on what your place is on the team.
On having become accustomed to rotating starters on the back line in Seattle, as it's expected that will happen now with the Union:
Depth in some of the more key positions is important, and I've noticed that [here]. It's a long season, and things go on with injuries and guys playing well and not playing well in key positions.
Sometimes it was a rotation, sometimes just whoever was [doing] the best was playing. It's sometimes hard as a player to get used to, but if you have a coach that communicates that with you and lets you know we're doing it strictly to have fresh legs throughout the season, then you understand it.
Ultimately, you want to have competition at every position, because it makes you better and it makes you work harder. You have to do everything you can every day and go out there and compete so youn're not sitting there comfortable in your spot.
In addition to Parke, Union manager John Hackworth chatted for a few minutes about Parke's arrival.
On what acquiring Parke means for the team, and how the deal transpired:
I think it's not only nice, it's really important. Things are always changing in this league. We always have to deal with a number of different situations. More importantly, to bring a centerback of Jeff's quality was really something we couldn't pass up at this point.
It was a long process, as most of these things are. To their credit, Seattle was trying to help Jeff in his request to move closer to his family on the east coast. That's how it started. We had a lot of conversations with Seattle that ultimately worked out in us agreeing on terms.
There's a process and a philosophy when you're doing this kind of stuff. You're not only trying to improve your team, you're trying to figure out exactly what that means. Bringing back Sébastien [Le Toux] and bringing Jeff to Philly fit perfectly – we want players whop want to be here.
They're more motivated, more driven. Every part of being a professional athlete makes a little more sense when a player is happy. That doesn't affect just those players, it affects the other players who are in the locker room.
In that regard, we brought [in] two experienced players. We know we already have a really good group of guys in the locker room, a core, and bringing in some experienced guys was really a win-win for us.
On whether he has a plan at this point to make the most of the Union's defensive depth:
We definitely have an idea and a plan. At the same time, I look around our league, I look around the world at teams that put themselves in positions to win championships, and at every one of those teams for the most part there is depth at the most crucial positions.
Most times people are asking, "Well, how are you going to play these guys and who does that mean you play?" From a coaching standpoint we really don't look at it like that - to say these are the only guys who are going to play.
We have an extremely long season, we have many ups and downs. We need to have a very competitive choice in selecting the best players for a given game, or a given stretch of games.
We now know that we have some flexibility. It allows us to move Amobi [Okugo] who was arguably the biggest surprise as a central defender in this league in the second half of the season. It gives us a lot of flexibility in not only who we play but how we play.
[Note from me: Moving Okugo means from center back to defensive midfielder. That's something a lot of people who've watched Okugo in the U.S. youth national team system have wanted to see. Stay tuned, because it could be a big deal.]
On adding another player with local ties to the roster:
The Philadelphia culture is a little different than some other markets around our country. Understanding that dynamic and that passion that our fans have, and the demands that are faced by professional athletes - there's no question that Chris Albright understands and gets it. Jeff understands and gets it.
That helps other guys in our locker room.
On how having senior squad players with local ties strengthens efforts to get local youth players into the team's academy:
I wouldn't have made those changes or those hires [a reference to Jim Curtin] or brought in those players if I didn't think it was really important.
For good bad or indifferent, I have a lot of experience with youth soccer all over this country, and the one thing I have always recognized as being so vial to a club's overall success is having local knowledge.
There's no way you can replace the intimate relationship of players and coaches that are from here and have developed over many years.