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2022 Player Preview: Keaton Parks

Injury kept him from the playoffs, but he has the makings of a midfield maestro

Leagues Cup 2021: Quarterfinals - Pumas v New York City FC
Cool Hand Keaton has plenty of reasons to smile.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Keaton Parks

Age: 24

Position: Midfield

2021 League Games: 31 games, 28 starts, 2444 minutes played

2021 Postseason: 0 games, 0 starts, 0 minutes played

What went right in 2021:

Keaton Parks had an outstanding 2021 for New York City FC: Calm, physical, and an integral part of a title-winning squad, he has the makings of a midfield maestro. Defensively, the 24-year-old utilized his stature to win the ball mainly in the middle third of the pitch. Never one to back down from a challenge, Parks racked up 44 successful tackles throughout the campaign. This presence in the midfield saw Parks take those successful challenges and push the ball continuously towards the attack. His focus on this forward progression saw Parks cement himself as a force within the midfield across his appearances in the 2021 season.

Typically deployed in a deeper role, Park’s positional awareness saw him excel as being a shield for the defense and as an efficient tool to beat the opposition’s press. The Texan’s ability to drop into the backline or act as a fulcrum in front of them and his quick movement allowed NYCFC to rapidly reset and play the ball forward. Most important, he showed his class by the natural vision he has to pick the right passes. Parks racked up a pass accuracy of 86.6% in the regular season.

Despite playing a deeper role, Parks successfully displayed his attacking intelligence through surging runs into the opponent’s box. These movements saw Parks utilize his 6’ 4” frame to win the ball and distribute it to his teammates in the attacking third. His movement off the ball, willingness to shoot (an impressive 32 shots from him all season), and his size allowed Parks to score four goals this season—easily beating out his expected goals of 2.3.

No doubt this fine display of form would have continued through the postseason. However, the unfortunate diagnosis of a blood clot prevented him from playing. Still, Parks can look back on a stellar 2021.

What to improve in 2022:

With injury acting as the major cause for his 2021 season to be cut short, Parks will be to focus on staying healthy and listening to his body. He is likely taking blood-thinning medication, but he should still be able to play and become a regular starter again.

On the field, Parks can look to improve three aspects of his game: 1) setting himself up for a tackle, 2) applying more pressure in the defensive- and middle-thirds of the pitch, and 3) cutting the opposition’s passing lanes.

Over the course of the previous season, Parks only managed to win 50.4% of the tackles he made and saw himself being beaten on the dribble a fair amount of the time. While Parks’s pressing might have been industrious, it bore little fruit in regards to winning positions. Parks’s 43 interceptions is a formidable amount, that still accounts for only about 1.5 per appearance. A better reading of the game will let him get a decisive foot in on a challenge or make that crucial interception.

What to expect in 2022:

It’s clear that Parks is slowly being integrated back into the side, as evident by his inclusion as a second-half substitute in the recent Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League win over Santos de Guápiles. With the proper reintroduction to normal play, Parks should bounce back from his injury and return to the form that he displayed throughout 2021. With the offseason departures of James Sands and Jesús Medina, Parks’s tactical mind will be all the more important to the midfield.

As the season progresses, it is very likely that Parks will begin to adapt to a box-to-box style, racking up even more goals and assists than he did in 2021. If NYCFC advances in the CONCACAF Champions League and needs to rotate the squad, Parks could develop into a versatile midfielder that manager Ronny Delia can deploy in multiple positions. Unquestionably, he will be an important part of NYCFC’s push to retain the MLS Cup this coming season.

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