Parke reflects on Seattle but considers Union his home


Parke reflects on Seattle but considers Union his home

CHESTER, Pa. -- In June of 2010, Seattle Sounders defender Jeff Parke sat in the PPL Park visitors locker room following the Union’s inaugural home match at the new Chester arena.

With a smile, the Downingtown native discussed the joy in seeing his hometown become the newest MLS city and the thrill of opening PPL Park in front of family and friends. He also mentioned a dream he had of eventually coming home and playing in Philadelphia.

Three years later that dream came true.

“It was a trade we had in the works since the end of [last] season,” said Parke, who faces his former club for the first time since the trade. “I expressed my intent, how my family was first and how I wanted to be back in Philly. I wanted to be home with family. I have another four years left in my career and I always wanted to play in Philly and end my career here. Seattle was a great place, but family came first.”

Eight games into his career with the Union, Parke has been a veteran pillar on coach John Hackworth’s back line, which features youngsters Sheanon Williams, Ray Gaddis and Amobi Okugo. When Parke came back to Philadelphia, he didn’t just bring his wife and newborn daughter, but a pool of leadership and experience for the young Union to tap into.

“I only have good things to say because of the kind of person and professional he’s been since the first day he arrived here,” Hackworth said. “Not only that but he’s played very well and brought leadership and continuity to our back line, which up to now has been very good. Jeff’s been a great acquisition for this club.”

Requesting a trade to the Union so he could be closer to his family, Parke has never been happier. And with a 3-3-2 record -- and improved play from last season -- the Union are, too.

“Every week I can scoot over to my parents' house or my wife’s parents' house and they can come help,” Parke said. “They can see our little daughter, which is so important. Those are the times I look at as a father and say this is why we live and why I do what I do. When I see her and my family, it puts a smile on my face. It’s a really good feeling.”

Yet, experience and leadership isn’t all Parke brings. With a first-hand understanding of the Philadelphia sports mentality and how fans react to area teams and players, Parke was the perfect acquisition for the Union, who were coming off a year featuring one public relations disaster after another.

“Being a hometown guy is really important to us because he gets the culture here in Philadelphia,” Hackworth said. “He was a fan growing up here and that’s unique for people to understand. He’s very valuable to us and we hope he’s like that for a long time to come.”

Though Parke is thrilled with his new situation in Philadelphia, the gritty central defender and Drexel University grad spent three of the best years with the Sounders, making Saturday’s contest at PPL Park a unique one.

“It’s definitely special because I’m home -- this is where I’m from,” Parke said. “And Seattle, where I played the last couple years and have a lot of good memories from, it has a different feel. But at the end of the day, I want three points. I’ll have more butterflies because it’s guys that I’ve played with and we have friendships, so it’ll be different for sure.

“I’m thankful for the opportunities they gave me, but I’m now onto the next chapter. This is home.”

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

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Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

Playoff soccer is returning to Chester for the first time in five years, and while fans prep for the Union’s first postseason games since 2011, there is no shortage of seating options for Union tickets on the primary market.

Perhaps most importantly, fans won’t have to break the bank to be on hand as the Union compete for their first MLS Cup in franchise history. Union field level seats are available for both the team’s final home regular season game against the New York Red Bulls and the Eastern Conference Semifinal on October 30 should they advance past the knockout round.

The team’s official website lists feet-on-the-pitch seating starting from $155 per ticket for this weekend’s game against the Red Bulls. The first-place Red Bulls head to Talen Energy Stadium with a first-round bye secured, but Union head coach Jim Curtin expects them to bring the pressure with them on Sunday. Fans can look on up close – and for relatively cheap - as the Union look to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their final loss of the regular season.

The Union will take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the knockout round either next Wednesday or Thursday. Pending a victory on the road, they’ll return to Talen Energy Stadium to host an Eastern Conference Semifinal game on October 30. Field level seating is still widely available for the team’s first home playoff game since 2011 and start from $178 per ticket.

2016 marks the franchise’s second MLS Cup Playoffs berth in its seven-year existence. They clinched a first-round bye in 2011 but fell to the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 aggregate in the Conference Semifinals. The Union bring a much different vibe into the playoffs this season, however, after a formidable stretch from September on nearly drowned their postseason hopes. The team won its last game on August 27 against Sporting Kansas City, losing four games and drawing in two others since. 

Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is a sense of renewment that will carry them into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Records are cast aside and the slate is wiped clean, beginning a new path on the long and often tumultuous road to a national championship.

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union coaches were about to wrap up a team meeting earlier this week, Alejandro Bedoya raised his hand.

The new midfielder had something he wanted to say.

“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen next season. Some guys are gonna retire, some guys are gonna leave, get traded, go somewhere else. 

“This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”

Bedoya, of course, is one of the team’s least-tenured players, coming over in August from France for his first stint in MLS. And there are other players on the team who have worn the captain’s armband, including Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta and Maurice Edu.

But Bedoya, a U.S. national team starter who forged a successful career in Europe, brings a unique viewpoint into what will be his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs. And Curtin was happy to see his new midfielder emerge as a locker room leader after a lifeless 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday sunk the Union's chances of possibly hosting a game when the playoffs begin next week.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first time it’s happened, where guys put their hand up and looked in the mirror, which is important,” Curtin said. “I think that shows good leadership, it shows we are a team that’s in this thing together. It’s kind of commonplace for the coach to take blame and put his hand up because I am ultimately in charge of the lineup and what goes out there. But for whatever reason, on the day it just wasn’t us, it didn’t feel like us. And to have guys recognize that was important.”

Bedoya certainly took his share of the blame for the loss to Orlando, admitting he wasn’t at his best after returning from a rib injury that held him out of two recent U.S. national team games.

To be fair though, nobody was at their best, which made for an awkward situation after the game when the Union learned they all but guaranteed a playoff berth — thanks to a Chicago Fire win over the New England Revolution — but didn’t much feel like celebrating.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league.”

The Union will get a chance to show that when they host the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., TCN). 

The Red Bulls are an MLS Cup contender and have the top seed in the East all but locked up. The Union are also firmly planted into their own spot, so the game doesn’t have many implications aside from Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips’ Golden Boot chase.

But for the Union, the game is still being viewed as a big one because the last thing they want is to enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak — and then, perhaps, enter the offseason on an eight-game winless streak, a dubious distinction that would cast a shadow over the accomplishment of making the playoffs for just the second time in club history.

“It’s very important,” Bedoya said. “I think it’s more than about pride. You gotta play for yourself, for each other. You’re representing this club, this organization, this city. I think we know the last performance was not good enough, not nearly good enough at all. It can only be better. We just have to try to get a result and play our best so we can get some momentum going into the playoffs.”

Considering the Union are playing the best team in the East followed by a playoff game against possibly Toronto FC or New York City FC — two teams loaded with stars — any win from here on out would be considered an upset. 

But Bedoya is a star in his own right, and the team’s new Designated Player is trying his best to spread a positive message heading into what will be the defining moments of the 2016 season.

And his teammates are listening.

“Definitely, he is a big-time player, a guy who can make big plays and make stuff for us and it’s great to have him,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I think on any given day, when all the guys are bought-in and sharp, we can stand up against any team and give it a good run. And I think hopefully this Sunday, we can get back on a run going into the playoffs.”