Parke reflects on Seattle but considers Union his home

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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.”

6 years after last appearance, Eric Lichaj's crucial goal lifts U.S. in Gold Cup win

6 years after last appearance, Eric Lichaj's crucial goal lifts U.S. in Gold Cup win

Six years after his last appearance with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Eric Lichaj finally opened up his international scoring account in a 2-0 win over El Salvador in Wednesday night’s Gold Cup quarterfinals match (see story).

Lichaj earned his first international appearance under previous USMNT coach Bob Bradley, only to fall out of favor with Jurgen Klinsmann during his tenure. Now with Bruce Arena at the helm, Lichaj has been given an opportunity to prove himself throughout the Gold Cup.

Despite getting off to a rocky start Wednesday night, the defender found himself streaking up the field into the opposing third, getting his foot on the receiving end of a Clint Dempsey assist.  

“I wasn’t having the best of times in the first half. I think I ended up going forward and having a good run. It was a good play down the left and Clint ended up turning and slotting me in and it was just a good goal, and I needed it because my performance in the first half is something I don’t want to repeat ever again,” Lichaj said. 

A full body slide celebration soon followed, along with congratulations and hugs from teammates.

“I’m delighted for him”, roommate and Union midfielder Chris Pontius said. “I told him he’d get one this tournament, he ventured forward a couple times in the first half. I don’t know how he ended up the left side as a right back, but it was a great finish though.”

A finish his family was able to enjoy with him, as Lichaj had 10 family members in the stands on Wednesday night. His wife and two daughters have traveled across the country over the last couple weeks, attending every game this tournament. 

The Lichaj’s will once again be packing their bags as they follow their favorite defender and the USMNT to Texas this weekend. Up next for the Red, White, and Blue is a semifinal match against Costa Rica on July 22. It’s a showdown that will certainly bring up some past emotions, for players and coaches alike. 

"Certainly they're a good team, we know that," Arena said of Costa Rica. "They beat the U.S. by four goals in November, right? Hopefully, we can remember that."

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

The U.S. men’s national team knows how to protect its Philly turf.

A year after shutting out Paraguay in the Copa America Centenario at Lincoln Financial Field, the American soccer stars returned to the Eagles’ home stadium and shut off El Salvador, 2-0, in the Gold Cup quarterfinals Wednesday night.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scored for the U.S., who advance to face Costa Rica in the semifinals of the tournament for CONCACAF supremacy.

But despite the shutout — and the fact that they’re moving on — the win didn’t exactly have U.S. head coach Bruce Arena in a jovial mood.

“I thought we had a difficult time tonight,” Arena said. “Our timing wasn’t good. We didn’t deal with the physicality. The game had no rhythm with all of the fouls and players falling on the ground. And we weren’t good on top of it.”

Arena was particularly upset about some of the more physical aspects of the game, saying that he didn’t think “games should look like that” with all the fouls and time wasting.

One particular play stood above the rest — and it took the term “physical” to a whole new level as El Salvador’s Henry Romero literally bit U.S. striker Jozy Altidore in the shoulder while defending him in the box on a corner kick.

It appeared that Altidore also got his nipple grabbed by Romero — something he was furious about at the time but able to laugh about afterwards.

“My girl’s mad at me,” Altidore said. “She’s mad at me, she’s mad at Romero, because she’s like, ‘Only I can bite you, only I can grab your nipples.’” 

Incredibly, U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez was also bitten later in the second half by Darwin Ceren. Neither Romero or Ceren were carded but could possibly draw retroactive punishments from CONCACAF.

“When the guy bit me, I was a bit shocked,” Gonzalez said. “But you have to move on as quick as possible and look forward to the next play.”

“There should have been players sent off in my opinion,” Arena added. “These games aren’t easy. Clearly I would think the referee doesn’t want to send anyone off. But it was a night where on a couple of occasions perhaps it would have gotten the game headed in the right direction.”

Of course, Gonzalez did enjoy the best kind of revenge, getting his head on the end of a 41st-minute free kick from Michael Bradley to put the Americans on the board.

The U.S. then made it 2-0 right before halftime when Lichaj scored his first international goal following a marvelous spin and through ball from Clint Dempsey.

“I don’t know if it was a few years coming,” said Lichaj, who made his first appearance with the U.S. national team in Chester back in 2010. “But I was just excited to score.”

Longtime USMNT stars Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard were four of the six players called up by Arena for the knockout stage of the tournament after a young, untested roster helped the team win Group B — albeit unconvincingly — with wins over Martinique and Nicaragua and a draw with Panama.

And although they did deliver — on top of the Bradley and Dempsey assists, Howard came through with one big early save en route to the shutout — no one seemed particularly happy about the performance.

“There was not much rhythm in the game today — a lot of stoppages because of all the fouls,” Dempsey said. “You just gotta try to be smart, see your way through the game. It wasn’t pretty but we got the right result.”

The Americans know they’ll need to be better in the next round against Costa Rica, who defeated Panama, 1-0, in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with fans from all four countries — 31,635 in all — packing the Linc.

The U.S. national team is looking to win its sixth Gold Cup and avenge an uninspired fourth-place finish in the last Gold Cup, two years ago.

“The great thing is we have a really deep roster and we’re able to keep the team somewhat fresh for every single game,” Gonzalez said. “Tonight we got six new guys in and you can tell it was a bit sloppy in the beginning. We missed passes here and there. It could definitely be better but we got a game in together and we’re expecting it to be a lot sharper for the next game.”

Of note to the Union fans in the crowd, Chris Pontius entered the game in the 87th minute, marking the third straight Gold Cup game he’s played in after being called in as a late injury replacement.

In the three minutes that he was on the field, the Union winger did not appear to get bit.