Jeff Parke knows it can be done.
The Union defender was a part of a similar nucleus of talent during his three seasons in Seattle – all of which culminated in MLS playoff appearances. A mix of veterans and talented youngsters forged a perennial powerhouse in the Emerald City, one that believed they had what it took to be the class of MLS.
“We had a good group of players [in Seattle], guys that were young…you had some veterans and middle aged guys,” Parke said after a recent training session. “The balance was good and we were the type of team that every year got off to a slow start, but the finish was something that we always did well and that carried us into the playoffs.”
It’s been a bit of the reverse for the Union.
For much of this season, the Union got off to an impressive start, winning games at home and picking up victories against solid opponents on the road. This is a club that pulled 15 points out of the first 10 matches (4-3-3) and scored 13 goals during that same stretch in MLS play.
As the regular season draws to what is sure to be a dramatic conclusion in the Eastern Conference, Parke believes that a lot of the traits that his teams in Seattle had are deep rooted here with the Union.
“It’s a younger group here, so they are looking at us older guys to steer the ship but there is that mix,” said Parke. “Perhaps the only difference here is that a lot of our guys haven’t been to the playoffs and that’s what many people don’t understand is that a lot of our players haven’t been there before and this is a first time for them. It’s important for this team this season to get to the playoffs so that you can feel that and recognize the importance.”
This team is still gearing up for that. Parke will be the first to admit.
“Right now, it’s about getting us ready mentally for the next five games,” said Parke. “We all have to collectively realize that the next five games are the most important and turn that switch on. It’s about making as many good plays as you can."
Parke knows a lot of it rests on his shoulders too as he is responsible for ensuring the backline is a wall against formidable opponents during this final stretch, starting with a trip Thursday to face Sporting Kansas City on Friday (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network). As a veteran on this roster that’s been there before, he knows what it takes to get to the next level.
He also knows what to expect and plans to use these next matches as a precursor for the real thing.
The playoffs begin Oct. 30. Spearheaded by a player like Parke, the Union plans to do all they can to get there.
“We have to worry about this first game,” said Parke. “We all want to get to the playoffs, but we have to take care of the road first to get there. We have a couple of games at home and a couple of games away, every game will feel like a playoff but it’s different because we are playing different teams – we aren’t just gearing up for one team. It’s week-to-week grind, but you can look at it from a playoff stance and say ‘hey, let’s win this game to get to the next game, let’s worry about this first game.’”
“That’s how we should be thinking and preparing, and right now we are thinking about this game against Kansas City and that’s it.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com