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NYCFC’s Keaton Parks scores 1st MLS goal in win over San Jose Earthquakes

Parks went from a total of 55 minutes in the first 14 regular season games to being an indispensable part of the NYCFC starting XI.

Sep 14, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC midfielder Keaton Parks (55) celebrates his goal against the San Jose Earthquakes with midfielder Alexander Ring (8) during the first half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

BRONX, N.Y. — Keaton Parks isn’t judged on his goal scoring.

He can play three different positions in the middle of the park, he’s strong in the air, good at clogging up passing lanes and opening up spaces and distributing for teammates.

But goal scoring? Yeah, it’s been a bit of a taking point in the New York City FC locker room.

“I get a lot of jokes around the locker room that I haven’t scored yet. I’ve had chances and some of them pretty easy. I missed a lot of chances, but it feels really good now and they can’t talk trash anymore.”

And even after Parks struck for his first league goal — he’s quick to point out the two he’s scored in the U.S. Open Cup — NYCFC captain Alex Ring still threw shade in his direction, along with some plaudits following a 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

“He deserved it,” Ring said. “He left a sitter with his head a couple [of games ago]. This one was 10 times harder.”

The sitter in front of goal came against the New York Red Bulls in a 2-1 Hudson River Derby win at Yankee Stadium Aug. 24.

The goal was, in many ways, a representation of so many of Parks’ strengths. He picked off an errant throw-in at midfield, and powered into space. Parks slipped a pass to Gary Mackay-Steven, whose shot was saved well by Daniel Vega.

Parks wisely continued his run, he said, to support the Scottish winger and was in the right spot for the rebound for the 40th-minute equalizer.

“I was really counting on him to score the goal after I did that whole run,” Parks said. “He had a good attempt on target and the keeper made a great save. Luckily, I was still there for the rebound and I got my chance on goal.”

There were no jokes about missed opportunities from NYCFC coach Dome Torrent — though he did admit Parks should have scored against both the Red Bulls and New England Revolution — but he lauded the 22-year-old for his improvement throughout the season.

Parks went from a total of 55 minutes over the course of the first 14 regular season games, an unused substitute nine times, to being an indispensable part of Torrent’s starting XI.

“I remember when he arrived here, I know how important it is for every single player to play with confidence. But he had focus just when he had the ball,” Torrent said. “And right now, he helps a lot our team even when we don’t have the ball, recover a lot of balls. He’s an amazing player right now for our team.”

Parks, who had 20 successful passes in the Quakes’ half, including nine in the final third and a pair of key passes, as well as two tackles won and two interceptions, was subbed off in the 77th minute for Tony Rocha.

Parks played a total of 257 minutes over the course of eight days.

“Keaton played amazing,” Torrent said. “We changed Keaton because in the last 20 minutes he had discomfort in the back. He told me five minutes and I need to change. It’s just discomfort, he’s not injured.”

A streak ends

NYCFC’s 1-1 draw against Toronto FC Wednesday night extended the club’s record to 0-5-3 since the middle of the 2017 season in games Maxi Moralez didn’t play.

Moralez was suspended due to yellow card accumulation Wednesday night. On Saturday he was sidelined with a hamstring injury

It’s not quite in the Diego Chara range — which reached 22 games in which the Portland Timbers defensive midfielder didn’t start and was snapped with the Timbers’ 1-0 win over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. But it was still a significant feat that NYCFC found a way to win without their MLS MVP-caliber playmaker.

“It is very important for us, for our confidence, for our future because everybody knows how important Maxi is for us,” Torrent said. “But everybody is important for us. I prefer to play with him of course. But that means the team is going up, is getting better every single day and the confidence is much better.”

Added Ring: “The stats speak for [itself] what Maxi means to us, especially creatively because we don’t have a player who’s very much like him, who can come and get the ball deep and pick out the right passes and still take on the opponent. We have different types of players, of course we miss him, but I think the team did a fantastic job in the last two games trying to pick up for him.”

Playoff home game clinched

NYCFC’s goal is to finish atop the Eastern Conference for the first time in club history and get home field throughout the playoffs.

They’ve already booked a ticket in the MLS Cup playoffs and on Saturday, NYCFC secured at least one home playoff game.

There is the possible question of a scheduling conflict with the New York Yankees, which could move at least one NYCFC playoff game elsewhere — Citi Field, home of the New York Mets could be in play.

But outside of that, NYCFC know the advantage they have at Yankee Stadium, where they are 10-1-5 this season. And they’re certainly not satisfied with just one playoff game in the Bronx.

“We’re just gonna enjoy life a little bit and take some rest and then we’ll see what the result will be, but for us it’s been a tough week and now it’s up to us,” Anton Tinnerholm said. “If we take the points we can, then no other teams can match us so what the other teams are doing, for us is not that important.”

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