USMNT Roster: Keaton Parks’ understanding of space with NYCFC should put him on Gregg Berhalter’s radar

Distance is important to everything Ronny Delia and New York City FC do. From Maxi Moralez floating in the pockets to the devastating dribbles of Talles Magno and the deadly ending of Valentine Castellano, space-creating players make NYCFC’s quick attack tick. It was on display during Sunday’s 3-0 win over the San Jose earthquakes, where Keaton Parks shone, scoring a goal. Given the way the USMNT operates and player manager Gregg Berhalter has and does not have at his disposal, performances like Parks’ on Sunday should at least have him on the radar of the US men’s national team.

Few players on Deila’s team understand distancing on the pitch the way Parks does. Along with most of the team, Parks struggled to score in the first half, barely touching the ball but after a lineup change from Delia, things changed in style.

Delia explained what happened after the game. “First of all, San Jose were really well organized. It was really difficult to face them. This is the best opponent we have had at this stadium this season so far, in my opinion,” she said. “We had to give our best, we had to be patient, we had to stay disciplined. It’s easy when you don’t take your chances in the first half to be stressed and lose organization. I think it was our best performance this year. At the break we changed one. some training because the press gave us some problems “.

The change he talks about is Parks and Santi Rodriguez operating as dual sixes with Moralez playing as number ten. Parks then received more ball from Alexander Callens and was able to spray forward passes as he made his way through the space that Magno created with his dribbles. These exchanges require both a strong understanding of your teammates and their tendencies, as well as Parks’ vision.

They also created the goal he scored, which was his second of the season along with two assists for NYCFC.

There’s a lot in common with that goal and how Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic swap for the national team under Berhalter. While Parks isn’t an overly athletic midfielder like McKennie, you can see where the two players have similarities in picking and choosing their runs when space is provided. Noticing the space to run into the hole Magno created is an awesome awareness of Parks.

Berhalter appreciates what he calls “verticality,” so this is the kind of off-the-ball movement, especially in set possessions he appreciates from midfielders. In the pool of eligible US midfielders, there is a lack of players capable of doing so from deeper positions. Luca de la Torre is the most progressive dribbler of the fringe boys on the radar but he didn’t show a wide range of passes when he can’t get into a good position with his feet. Parks is a different face of a similar coin.

While not as dynamic at dribbling with the ball at his feet, Parks is capable of making the ball travel to the correct positions with precision, as evidenced by his pass rate of 89.3. Even on long passes (he passes over 25 yards), Parks has a nearly 90 percent success rate. Being only 24, Parks has a good understanding of what he can and cannot do to correctly pick his points to play a ball forward or backward to be a safety valve for his center backs.

Parks did this consistently during New York’s win over San Jose on Sunday, which is shown in the passing map below. The black arrows are completed steps while the gray ones are failed steps.

Keaton Parks pass map against San Jose earthquakes

Major League Football

He also won two tackles and blocked a shot. He’s not a pure defensive midfielder who can or should sit alone like USMNT’s outstanding defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, but given the range of passing he offers, the question is whether he can offer enough defensive help not to be a hindrance.

Parks has also had an interesting and unique career trajectory. He was born in Texas but then moved to Varzim SC in the Portuguese second division in 2015 after turning 18. He made his debut there in 2016, playing in midfield and scoring two goals. This was enough to earn Parks the move to the first division with Benfica.

Parks made only four appearances for Benfica’s senior team and spent most of his time with Benfica B, but the attention to detail he has gained by developing with the club shows in his game how he has been with NYCFC since. 2019. Helped him integrate into Delia’s Tech System and thrives. With upcoming Nations League matches and friendlies over the summer, it would be a good time for Berhalter to see if Parks can add another technical system to his wheelhouse.

In the World Cup, being able to use the double defensive midfielder and having different options as a change of pace could make the difference between elimination in the group stage and access to the round of 16, especially considering the quality of the competition that United States could play. If Parks continues to impress, he could offer another tool to Berhalter’s arsenal to move forward.

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