After the most recent home match against Toronto FC, Jeff Parke was one of the last players lingering in the locker room.
He looked around and felt comfortable.
“This is my new home,” Parke said, “and it feels great to be here.”
Parke wasn’t sure if he would ever get the chance to play in his hometown where he was a high school standout at Downingtown West, leading the team to consecutive PIAA state championships.
Parke also played for youth powerhouse FC Delco and competed for four years at Drexel University.
Donning a Philadelphia Union uniform?
“You just hope, but you never know,” Parke told philadelphiaunion.com. “I always had this hope in the back of my mind that something could happen. But until it does, you have a job to do. You don’t know. Like I’ve said to many people, coming to Philadelphia to play for the Union is a dream come true. Coming through the tunnel in PPL Park is so special to me.
“I love these fans and this is my home. I feel like we have a very good team which has so much potential. Being a part of it is incredible to me. I kind of have to pinch myself sometimes being here. I’m very excited about the season and playing for the Union.”
Parke was acquired from Seattle Sounders FC for allocation money and a 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft pick.
Since stepping onto the back line, Parke has flourished.
His presence is clearly noticed on the pitch and in the locker room.
“Jeff has done a great job,” said defender Sheanon Williams. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed player who’s not afraid to mix it up. He’s very skilled and he’s a team guy. We all welcomed Jeff. He’s played great and we are only to get better as a club the more we play together.”
Parke recently welcomed his first child, a baby girl named Camille.
Having his wife, new daughter and other family and friends nearby has made the transition that much easier.
“It was a bit crazy at first but things have calmed down,” Parke admitted. “Being back in the Philly area is what I wanted and I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. It’s positive any way you look at it. It’s kind of a dream scenario, you know?”
Over the past three seasons, Parke appeared in 78 matches for the Sounders as they reached the MLS postseason in three consecutive seasons.
The Union are looking to get back to the MLS Cup playoffs after a one-year absence.
Through seven matches, the Union are 3-2-2 and coming off a huge 3-2 victory at D.C. United.
“There is a ton of talent on this club,” Parke said. “We have guys who can score, guys who can defend, guys who are strong in the midfield and strong keepers,” Parke said. “There is depth in here, which is big in this league. More than that, this is a club who likes each other and pulls for each other. I haven’t been here that long, but you can see it every day. There’s great chemistry here.
“I’m really excited to see how this season plays out. Guys are going to improve and get better, myself included. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Having that ride in his hometown makes the journey even more special.
“No doubt,” Parke said. “I didn’t know if this would ever happen. I’m glad it did. Now, I want to take advantage of it.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com