Last month, I traveled out west to cover the Union at San Jose and Seattle at Portland. When the MLS fixture list came out and I saw that those games were on back-to-back days, that weekend went to the top of my list of trips to take this summer.
While in Portland, I spent some time chatting with Drexel product and Jeff Parke. I then traveled to Seattle, and spent an afternoon at the Sounders' training complex catching up with Villanova product Michael Seamon.
The resulting story was supposed to run on the Inquirer's soccer page a while back, but this summer has been so busy that the piece never got to print. So I figured I would post it here, before it got too old. I hope you enjoy it.
TUKWILA, Wash. - If you walk into the Seattle Sounders’ locker room after a game, you’ll hear a lot of different languages and dialects being spoken. The club has players from 10 foreign countries and 12 American states.
But in one corner, you’ll find an accent that sounds very familiar to someone who takes a drink of "wooder" after running around for 90 minutes on a soccer field.
That’s the part of the locker room where Jeff Parke and Michael Seamon sit next to each other. Parke, an Abington native and Drexel alumnus, and Seamon, a Villanova graduate who hails from Rahway, N.J., have become close friends as they pursue their soccer dreams far away from home.
Parke is a veteran by Major League Soccer standards, having started out in the league in 2004. Seamon is only in his second season as a pro. Somehow, they ended up in the same place at the same time.
After playing for New York from 2004 to 2008, Parke was acquired by the Sounders in their expansion draft for the 2009 season. He was released soon thereafter, but made it back to Seattle for the start of the 2010 campaign.
By coincidence, that was the same year that the Sounders acquired Seamon - at an MLS SuperDraft held in, of all places. Philadelphia.
Both players have benefitted from each other’s presence.
"It’s good to be around [Seamon], to teach him, and to have him as kind of a little brother around the locker room," Parke said.
Seamon said that Parke has "definitely taught me a lot, and helped me with maturing."
Their friendship includes the occasional banter about the differences between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"Us Pennsylvania boys like to beat up on the Jersey people and make fun of them," Parke said, though he added that he considers Seamon an honorary Philadelphian because of his time at Villanova.
Seamon offered an anecdote that will probably sound familiar to soccer fans in the Delaware Valley.
"[Parke] swears I’m the worst driver, because I’m from New Jersey," Seamon said. "I don’t even know what he’s talking about half the time, but at all times when I’m driving, I’m doing something wrong."
As time has passed, Parke and Seamon have become more comfortable living in the Pacific Northwest. Although Parke still carries a thick Philadelphia accent, he said he loves being in Seattle, and he is "settling in fine now - it has become home."
Seamon isn’t quite there yet, though.
"I definitely wouldn’t say it feels like home." he said. "But it’s getting to a point where I’m happy to live out here, and I wouldn’t have said that a little while ago."
It probably helps that Seattle is one of the most soccer-mad cities in the nation. The Sounders average over 36,000 fans per game at CenturyLink Field - a venue they share with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks - and participate in MLS’ fiercest rivalry, with the nearby Portland Timbers.
"It’s kind of like Villanova-St. Joe’s," Parke said of what fans in the Pacific Northwest call the Cascadia Cup.
There are some similar dynamics. Seattle is larger than Portland, and has been more successful in MLS, as well as internationally. Portland is a smaller, more tightly-knit community with decades of its own soccer history.
Add in the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the three-way series can be considered MLS’ equivalent of the Big 5.
Seamon admitted that he didn’t get too immersed in the Holy War rivalry while on the Main Line, but he appreciated Parke’s analogy to their soccer experience.
"We look at ourselves as being a little superior to St. Joe’s," Seamon quipped.
Despite being on the other side of the country, those eastern roots will likely never die.