We can officially say that the MLS season starts the day after tomorrow. Put otherwise, it's two days until D.C. United kicks off the 2014 campaign at RFK Stadium against the Columbus Crew. And that means that we have reached the final entry in our season countdown, focusing on the new man wearing #2, Jeff Parke. The veteran center back was acquired from the Philadelphia Union the week before the SuperDraft back in January, with United sending Ethan White and the top spot in the allocation order (i.e. Maurice Edu, basically) the other way. Parke immediately slotted into everybody's presumed starting XI for the Black-and-Red, and through preseason, it's been clear that the spot next to likely captain Bobby Boswell has been Parke's to lose.
But it's the nature of his acquisition that still defines Parke in the minds of many Districtistas. In evaluating the upcoming season, it will be hard to divorce Parke's performance from that of White and Edu 140 miles up I-95. Parke is no doubt an upgrade over White for the short-term. But at 31, he doesn't seem to present a long-term fix at center back - and, importantly, neither does the 30-year-old (31 later this month) Boswell.
So it's clear that Parke and Boswell were brought in in an attempt to get results now and next year, as younger defenders like Steve Birnbaum and Jalen Robinson, who join the Black-and-Red via the SuperDraft and homegrown signing respectively, mature behind them. Personally, I've come to terms with the trade for Parke. Ethan White has shown flashes of real quality, but he remains inconsistent and tactically naive (and now unlikely to start in Philly), while Parke was by some measures the best player Philadelphia had last season. We probably overpaid for Parke by sending both White and the claim to Edu to PPL Park for him, but it seems (for better or, likely worse) the decision had already been made to essentially pass on the allocation pick. Ultimately, we needed somebody who would represent an improvement right away, and that's what we got.
Whether it works out remains to be seen. Parke isn't exactly slow, but he doesn't have anything like the pace of Dejan Jakovic. Paired with the increasingly less mobile Boswell, there is reason to wonder whether the new pairing will be successful against teams with elite speed up front. But even that is improvement over a series of pairings that, last year, proved inept at defending against speed or intelligence or strength.
And so, the question for this post: Given all the circumstances - the trade, his age, his ability, everything - what do you make of Jeff Parke? What will it take for you to call his season a success, and how much does the Union's fortunes in 2014 affect your calculus? Let us know in the comments.