At the age of 17, Keaton Parks turned down a full scholarship offer from Southern Methodist University to embark on a European experience that ultimately led to the Portuguese giants, Benfica.
The Frisco, Texas native signed his first professional contract with Varzim S.C. in Portugal before landing with the 36-time Primiera Liga champions. In two seasons, Parks tallied seven goals and seven assists in 40 appearances for Benfica B but was afforded only a quartet of first team games.
With an eye on first team minutes, Parks elected to explore the top tier of American soccer – MLS. Three weeks after an initial contact, Parks signed on loan with New York City FC.
Considered a potential replacement for the departed Yangel Herrera, Parks was inserted into the mythical starting XI by supporters and journalists. However, through 11 matches of his debut season, Parks has logged a mere 28 minutes with a career high 14-minute shift in Saturday’s 2-0 road win over the L.A. Galaxy.
“Keaton Parks didn’t leave Benfica to come here and train with the NYCFC squad and play in fleeting minutes,” NYCFC radio analyst Matt Lawrence told Pro Soccer USA.
On social media, supporters have clamored about the absence of Parks from the New York City lineup.
All I'm saying is that @keaton_parks should be getting minutes if @jamessands_16 is out hurt against @impactmontreal. The staff @OutfieldNYCFC might riot if this young man doesn't get a start soon… #NYCFC pic.twitter.com/9pPnXoGGIw
— NYCFC Tactics (@NYCFCTactics) May 3, 2019
Light a candle for another Keaton Parks non-start everyone https://t.co/d6Yn24jjht
— Kevin Nelson (@Kevin_N_Nelson) May 11, 2019
— Michael Allen (@msa_allen) May 4, 2019
Start Keaton Parks already
— anthony (@metsanthony) May 4, 2019
New York City head coach, Dome Torrent addressed the Parks situation with Pro Soccer USA prior to Saturday’s match versus the Galaxy.
“Maybe the fans see Keaton just two games with the national team or one,” Torrent said. “I understand you ask me that [about Parks playing time] but I don’t understand because I ask you how many games did you see Keaton with Benfica B? I watched a lot of games and I have confidence in Keaton but right now when I decide to play with other players it’s because I have confidence in this team right now.”
Parks had a two-minute cameo at Orlando City in the season opener followed by an 11-minute appearance in the scoreless home draw with Montreal. His one-minute entry in the 1-0 victory over Chicago at Yankee Stadium was more an effort to kill the game than provide match experience.
Parks is currently tangled in a team transformation that has added to his predicament.
“I don’t see a position for him right now in the NYCFC team the way they are playing,” said Lawrence, a former central defender for Millwall, Crystal Palace and Fulham. “I think he’s a very good player – he’s shown that playing for Benfica and for the national team. I just think this formation doesn’t fit the way he plays.”
During the current seven-match unbeaten run, Torrent has altered the shape from a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 to a three-back system that has eliminated the need of a like-for-like replacement for Herrera – a magnificent No. 8 or box-to-box midfielder during his two seasons in the Bronx.
This modified shape that may have hastened the departure of Jonathan Lewis, currently leaves Parks out of consideration for New York City. The twin defensive midfield in Torrent’s system features Alex Ring and Ebenezer Ofori leaving Parks wanting for a position of sway.
Parks is primarily a No. 8 or a No. 10 – the attacking midfielder – which were his tasks as a starter in a pair of recent friendlies with the U-23 National Team.
“I would envisage him playing in kind of a No. 10 role in this formation,” Lawrence said before the Galaxy triumph. “But you’ve got Maxi Moralez there and there’s no way you are going to withdraw Maxi Moralez.”
Indeed, with a quarter of an hour remaining in the Galaxy match, Parks replaced Moralez in a 3-4-3 attacking shape that has featured the NYCFC playmaker and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi as inverted wings finding the half spaces and pockets between the lines.
“He’s so close, he’s so close to playing,” Torrent said of Parks. “It’s not important the age of the player because I show to you with Jimmy (18-year old Sands) right now. I decide to play with the other players now because I think it’s the best option for us.”
“It is a dilemma for Keaton Parks as a player,” Lawrence said. “He’s not 16 or 17 anymore. He needs to be getting minutes and that’s not minutes on a USL team or just a few minutes in a U.S. Open Cup or off the bench – I mean starting minutes. He needs to be logging 60 minutes here, 70 minutes there – otherwise he may as well have stayed at Benfica.”
Torrent suggested that those critical minutes will have to be earned.
“It’s the same for Taty (Castellanos), for Jesus (Medina) – everybody – it’s not about Keaton,” Torrent said. “I choose the players about the performance in the facility. Right now, everybody deserves for their performance to play but I am so sorry – soccer is about 11 players. I would like to play with 20 players because all of them deserve to play – I am very happy with Keaton and if you ask me about him he has to be patient. He is a young player and I’m sure he’ll have his opportunity to play with us.”