Veteran center back Jeff Parke was brought to D.C. United this season in part to serve as the final piece of a completely retooled defensive back line. Acquired from the Philadelphia Union a week before this year's MLS Superdraft in exchange for Ethan White and the top spot in the allocation order, Parke was a proven MLS defender in his years with Philadelphia and the Seattle Sounders. Though United would draft defender Steven Birnbaum with the 2nd pick in the MLS Superdraft (trading the 1st overall pick to, you guessed it, the Union in exchange for the 2nd pick and allocation money), Parke was still inked into the starting XI at center back alongside captain Bobby Boswell.
As the season began, you could tell Parke's skills were a welcome upgrade, and while it took a few games for Parke to gel with Boswell, Bill Hamid, Sean Franklin and the rest of the defensive unit, they steadily improved. As they improved, so did the team's results on the scoreboard. Parke started the first 13 league matches of the season, going the full 90 in each of them with the exception of the opening match, and his play helped United to climb the ladder and assume the top spot in the East just before the league went on World Cup hiatus.
After helping United to a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory over Sporting KC on May 31st, Jeff Parke was ruled out for a few games with an unspecified foot injury. That foot ailment would keep him out several weeks, but only missing a few games in the process with the World Cup break and the very few scheduled matches for United in July. It was expected that in July that Parke would be able to return to the lineup. However, in mid-July, it was learned by the public that Parke was suffering from migraine headaches. It was not known publicly what was causing the migraines. In August, Jeff Parke underwent inner-ear surgery to repair long term peri lymphatic fistula problems in the hopes that it would help him recover from the migraines. Unfortunately, Parke never played again over the rest of the season.
Jeff Parke was a great player for the team this season, and his veteran presence was a calming influence on the back line and really helped them perform well. It's unfortunate that his foot ailment and, later, the migraine issues cost him the season, as his return would have been very welcome to the back line that was depleted through the tough stretch of August to early October where they played so many league and CONCACAF Champions League matches. It's also a wonder if he would have reclaimed his starting job as rookie Birnbaum stepped up huge in his absence and was 3rd in MLS Rookie of the Year voting.
Jeff Parke will turn 33 early next season, and it is unclear if the inner-ear surgery will allow him to be fully healthy and compete once again for that starting center back spot with the likes Steven Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell and Kofi Opare. We also probably overpaid for him when we traded for him before the season and unless we renegotiate his contract, he will come at a high cost next season. Still, when healthy, Parke's leadership, calm demeanor and skilled defensive play would allow Ben Olsen several combinations in center back pairings and if we get the Jeff Parke that we had at the beginning of this season, there will be little to worry about from our back line.
Here's the question of the day: