For the first time in history, the Philadelphia Union have true defensive depth.
Former Drexel standout Jeff Parke is coming home to Philadelphia to join a backline that already includes capable center halves Carlos Valdes, Bakary Soumare, and Amobi Okugo.
It's a move that could mean a lot for Okugo, as the technical staff decides whether to use him as a defender, or move him back to his natural midfield role in 2013.
"We now know that we have some flexiblity," explained head coach John Hackworth on conference call Tuesday morning. "It allows us to move Amobi, who was arguably one of, probably the biggest surprise as a central defender in this league in the second half of the season. [This Parke signing] gives us a lot of flexibility not only in who we play, but how we play."
While there will be competition on the backline, the Union manager says he's already given a lot of thought to how his defenders should be used.
"We definitely have an idea and a plan," Hackworth said. "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 every one of those teams, for the most part, there is depth at the most crucial positions. Most times people are asking, well, 'how do you 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, 'ok these are the only guys that 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 the given game, or the given stretch of games. I don't think that can hurt, especially when you bring in the kind of quality that we've added recently."
Parke was on the same page with his new manager.
"If you look at all of the big clubs in the world, they have depth in the big positions," Parke added. "It's something that you need. There are so many games that you play, and there are so many ups and downs throughout the year."
Parke's situation in Seattle wasn't dissimilar from the situation he finds himself in now. He was part of a three man core that included Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. All three defenders played significant minutes each season since 2010.
"[In Seattle] sometimes there was a rotation, sometimes it was just, whoever is playing the best (played in the next game)," explained Parke. "It's sometimes hard as a player to get used to, but if you have a coach that really communicates that to you, and let's you know, for example, that we're doing this strictly because we want to have fresh legs for the long haul, then we understand it. But it's difficult sometimes if the coach isn't telling you that, and you're going through it, and you're wondering 'why am I not playing' or 'why are (other guys) playing over me'. But it's something that, ultimately you want to have competition in every position because it makes you better. It makes you work hard. It keeps you on your toes. It makes you realize that a position isn't always yours and that you have to do everything you can every day and go out and compete so you aren't too comfortable in your spot. It's always good to have competition and have guys fighting and trying to prove themselves and help the team get better."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kevin on Twitter @philUnionKevinK