Keaton Parks was, in many ways, a surprise signing for New York City FC in 2019. The 21-year-old American came at a time when the main concern of most fans was replacing David Villa who departed the club for Vissel Kobe after the 2018 season, and Parks was certainly not the replacement striker that the fans sought after. Parks played mainly in the defensive midfield for Benfica, where he was relegated to the B team for a large portion of his time with the club. This signing perplexed many and for good reason, the defensive midfield was, if anything, over saturated. Newly appointed captain Alexander Ring had finished his second year playing in the No. 6 position and homegrown CDM James Sands was quickly catching up to him — the defensive midfield seemed set for the foreseeable future. Head coach Doménec Torrent seemed to question the usefulness of his signing as he struggled for minutes.
While promising in the few minutes he played, he was still without a start within City’s first 14 competitive matches. Luckily for Parks, the next match in NYC's schedule took them to St. John’s Belson University for their first U.S. Open Cup home game in the team’s short history. The squad fielded was mostly a rotational one, with Juan Pablo Torres, Dan Bedoya, and Justin Haak all playing in place of regular starters. Parks was also among those chosen for the match and successfully made a lasting impression. The youngster’s long legs and creative passing created space in the attacking midfield, opening space for the defensive midfielders to get forward.
After his performance in the game against North Carolina, Keaton moved from the bench to the starting XI, starting in 14 of the remaining 20 regular season matches. His contributions were clear — results began to improve moving from 1.64 Points-per-game to 2.2 Points-per-game. His production was not only impactful on a results basis, but his improvement also reflected on the midfield and the way the team played. Production from wingers improved, as Parks’ creativity in the midfield created acres of space for wingers to cut in and get into more dangerous positions. his movement going forward were not only influential on wingers but also on the rest of the midfield. Defensive midfielder and City captain Alexander Ring found himself able to push forward, notching 4 goals and 4 assists as the season went on. Designated Player Maxi Moralez was able to play a more fluid positional game, making this his most successful season with NYCFC setting up 20 goals and claiming another 7 for himself.
With Parks being such a vital part of NYC’s midfield, it came as a surprise for many that Keaton was not re-acquired despite being protected from the expansion draft. Even more of a surprise came in the form of contract renewals where it was announced that center midfielder Ebeneezer Ofori would not be returning to the club for the 2020 season.
The versatile and valuable @TonyRocha16 has signed a new contract w/ #NYCFC. Rocha appeared in 9 of the last 11 matches of the regular year w/ 5 starts, moving ahead of Ebenezer Ofori on the depth chart. Ofori's club option was declined last week. @NYCFC @MLS @ProSoccerUSAcom— Glenn Crooks (@GlennCrooks) November 25, 2019
Ofori — who joined the club in 2018 on loan — had earned a spot in the starting lineup of the Boys in Blue after an injury kept Yangel Herrera off of the team sheet for nearly a whole season. Ofori also suffered a major injury during the 2019 season which presented even more of an opportunity for Parks. The moves releasing these two players left a massive unaddressed hole in the midfield, and one that wouldn't be easy to fill. Ofori and Parks were both players of extremely high quality and performed at a consistently high level that would be dearly missed by fans.
Luckily for the team and fans alike, it was announced recently that Keaton Parks had signed a multi-year deal with City.
Where will Keaton’s career go from here? From all recent signs, it seems to only be headed up. But only Ronny Deila and his coaching staff may know for sure.