"I see now I can influence other people and bring out the best in them'
BY MARC WEBER
He might not quiver during "O Canada," and he quite likely won't be a Vancouver Whitecap for much longer, but Jeff Parke is taking the Nutrilite Canadian Championship as seriously as anyone.
The Whitecaps visit the Montreal Impact tonight for a crucial game in the three-team, home-and-away tournament that determines Canada's berth into the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto FC has beaten both sides 1-0 and sit firmly in the driver's seat.
"I didn't know much about it," admitted Parke, the 27-year-old central defender from Pennsylvania who's on a flexible deal that will allow him to explore European options in June.
"Seeing the guys, how important it is to them and to the club, it's very important to me, too. These games are huge. You could feel the magnitude of the [May 6 loss] in Toronto." He broke off contract talks with Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders in late March to sign with the United Soccer Leagues' Whitecaps.
You'd be forgiven for thinking his head, and heart, weren't fully immersed here -- a temporary stop over to a brighter future across the Atlantic -- but you would be quite wrong.
The first hint came shortly after his arrival. Forced to sit out the remaining four games of his 10-game banned substance suspension from MLS, Parke didn't sulk or keep to himself. Instead, he made a point of helping the younger players during practice.
Whitecaps rookie Wes Knight, lined up in a starting role off Parke's right shoulder lately, has been the biggest beneficiary.
The 22-year-old admitted he wasn't sure how much passion Parke would bring when the longtime New York Red Bull first signed.
"I was kind of thinking that's maybe what it would be like, a stop-over," said Knight. "But no, it's been exactly the opposite. No doubt, Jeff Parke has been the most influential player on the team for me. He's taken me under his wing and he's been a blessing for me and the team for sure." Parke is relishing the chance to be a mentor, a role he said he's never taken on before and one he wished someone else would have fulfilled when he broke into MLS in 2004. The best example he's setting is also the simplest: No matter how long you intend to be somewhere, do your job to the best of your ability.
"It's important for me to take every game as if it could be the last," said Parke.
"You're going out there to perform and do a job for the fans, for the club.
"I can see now that I can influence other people and bring out the best in them, help them become better professionals, and I enjoy that." Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson toyed with Parke's playing role in their Nutrilite opener at Toronto, moving him to right back to have a fast veteran presence defending Dwayne De Rosario. It was one of three bold moves that didn't work out as planned with TFC scoring just three minutes in.
Expect a more conventional lineup this evening, likely unchanged from their 2-1 home loss to Rochester on Saturday, a game they dominated but failed to finish in.
The Whitecaps can't afford any more missteps tonight -- tactical or technical.
"We've got to go to Montreal and win, and come back [to Vancouver] and win," said captain Martin Nash. "That's got to be our only mindset. Anything less is going to be unacceptable."
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