The experience was rewarding during his nearly two years with the top club in Portugal, but Keaton Parks craved a scenario that would ultimately enhance his opportunities with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
The New York City FC midfielder, acquired from Benfica on January 19, received a boost today when he was named to the U-23 camp roster.
He will play for the former NYCFC head coach, Jason Kreis who was named the new head coach of the U.S. U-23’s.
“I want to help this team here in MLS,” the 21-year old said upon his return to the states. “Hopefully, that can lead to the national team.”
While Parks has attained but a two-minute cameo in the regular season opener at Orlando City, the Plano, Texas native possesses the sort of skill set that NYCFC head coach Dome Torrent requires in the center of the park.
“I have great vision and a great touch on the ball,” Keats said while providing a self-evaluation. “I like to play simple, make passes and make assists. Like, make a key pass into the box or just through balls – create plays – look forward to a player that’s ready to create goals.”
At 6-foot-3, he provides a presence in the midfield and has the characteristics of a No. 8, although attacking midfield has been a primary focus throughout his career.
“Growing up I played the No. 10 – the attacking midfield,” Parks said. “But over the last two years, Benfica had me going box-to-box so I learned a lot about the No. 8 position.”
Parks joined the Liverpool Warriors in Dallas before turning down a scholarship offer at SMU to sign with second division Portuguese side, Varzim.
He was 17 at the time.
“I passed up SMU to take my chances in Europe,” Parks said. “It turned out to be the best decision for me.”
Parks appeared in 14 matches for Varzim before transferring to Benfica – winners of 36 Premeira Liga titles, including four in the last five seasons.
“Just living in an environment like Benfica was an amazing experience,” Parks said. “They live and breath soccer there – it just helps you grow as a player. Coming from here and going there – what a difference.”
Despite the soccer milieu, Parks’ time with the first team was limited. He had seven goals and seven assists in 42 games for Benfica B, but was afforded only four appearances in the top tier.
The time was proper for a move abroad – and back home.
“It was an amazing experience to play in Europe but when I got back from my Christmas vacation, New York City made their official bid and the process was done in about three weeks,” Parks said.
One of his tasks in the Bronx is to vie as a replacement for Yangel Herrera who transferred to Huesca – currently at the bottom of the table in La Liga. Herrera had the bite, mobility and technique to help form an exceptional midfield triangle with Maxi Moralez and Alex Ring over his two years with the club.
“I’ve heard a lot about him and how good he is as a player,” Parks said. “Of course, I’d love to be able to fill his shoes and replace him.”
For now, the emergence of James Sands as the No. 6 has propelled Ring into the new box-to-box midfielder for New York City – Ring has 10 shots and a team-leading two goals in the club’s three matches to open the campaign.
At the moment, Parks will attempt to perform in a manner that creates a buzz on the national team staff. He has one cap with the senior team – a smooth 29-minute shift in a friendly against Bolivia last May.
He yearns for the chance to be part of the young Americans hoping to turn around the fortunes of his country.
“Anything we can do to help football grow in the US and bring our national team back to what it needs to be,” Parks said. “We’re just playing the best football we can and trying to grow.”