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.”

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.