3.27.2009

The Jeff Parke Saga

Jeff Parke won't be signing with the Seattle Sounders after all. And I honestly don't believe it's his fault.

According to Jose Romero's always excellent blog at the Seattle Times, Jeff Parke is no longer with the Sounders. He was barely just with them to begin with, having played in one reserve match and practicing a couple times without signing a contract. But Wednesday he left the team and seems unlikely to return.

Parke's case has been an unusual one. He was picked by Seattle from New York in the expansion draft, and did not have a contract with MLS at the time, making him effectively a free agent, though his rights belong to Seattle for the next two years. Instead of negotiating a deal with the Sounders, he attempted to fulfill one of his dreams by playing in Europe, but two trials in Belgium met with no success. He returned to the USA and Seattle last week to presumably attempt and work out a deal. That, clearly, has fallen through.

So what the hell is going on? To get some insight, check out this interview of Parke from last week. One particularly interesting quote on his negotiations with New York prior to the expansion draft - 'They gave me a number and at the end of the day I didn't agree with it," Parke said of his final contract talks with New York. "That was that. I obviously had some hurt and some anger toward the club for how it was handled and how I was kind of just left by myself.' He also mentions needing to look out for his family, something that has come up with him multiple times. And that's fair. He made about 60,000 last year, which isn't bad but is certainly less than someone as good as him should be making.

What this insightful interview shows us is that for Parke, it's about the money. The reason he was left unprotected by the Red Bulls wasn't because of his steroid suspension, or because he was an inferior talent. It was that he would have been too expensive. Fair enough. So Parke jumped for Europe, trying to get the big bucks. When that didn't work, he came back to Seattle to begin contract talks. And things looked good. But remember Sigi Schmidt's comment about Parke? Something along the lines of 'It's always good to have depth'. From that, and from the money Parke is probably looking for, upwards of 150 thousand dollars, the problem was clear. In terms of the roster, Parke was a luxury, not a necessity. The Sounders don't have a lot of money left under the cap, and what they do have they'd probably like to save for summer additions. They simply weren't able to offer Parke as much as he wanted.

It's a shame that Jeff Parke apparently isn't going to work out in Seattle. He's a very good player, a quality MLS starter, and we could use some more of those. I would imagine the next step would be shopping his rights to a defense-deficient team that has some salary cap space to work with. (New England, perhaps, to fill the hole left by Michael Parkhurst?)

I don't blame Parke for looking for the cash, though, or the Sounders for not giving it to him. What I do blame is the Scrooge-like salary cap of MLS that makes keeping players like Parke in America next-to-impossible. After this year, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring, I hope we can see some major changes to the salary structures of MLS to keep things like the Jeff Parke saga from happening. Because in this situation, there is no winner.

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