New York City is a continually evolving world unto itself. From the busy, narrow, streets of the financial district to the wide tree-lined avenues of the outer boroughs there are seemingly infinite environments one could immerse themselves in, each one being the complete opposite of the last. It would make sense that everyone who grew up in, or learned to love soccer in New York City, has a different view of it. For every child growing up in a small cramped apartment in Chinatown playing soccer on a turf field nestled between streets of speeding cabs and delivery bikes, there is another growing up on a quiet street, playing on a patch of dirt, which only the city deems acceptable to call a pitch, in Queens. parker
Despite the differences of the environment one plays the game in, everyone makes the best of their situation. Whether playing on asphalt or grass, New Yorkers feel pride in their communities, whether that community is a city, a borough, a neighborhood or even a street. It is that tribal mentality that drives sports.
Tim Parker grew up a 20-minute train ride outside of New York City, in Nassau County, but he was no stranger to playing for his community. So naturally, it makes sense that when he was asked what came to mind when thinking of the New York soccer culture his answer focused on representing his community from the beginning.
“Growing up playing at a young age I think most kids on Long Island start playing at the age of 3, 4 years old, just because it’s one of the first sports you can play and just playing for your town and obviously doing that as long as you can until you end up having to move somewhere else.”
Tim grew up in Hicksville, a town that despite the imagery invoked by it’s name, was a pleasant place to grow up – a short Long Island Rail Road ride away from Manhattan. He spent his childhood idolizing Chelsea’s John Terry and following Tottenham Hotspur. He’s currently living across North America in Vancouver, Canada, where he is a defender for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Given the distance, it’s natural that the soccer culture would be a little different from that of New York: “I think it’s kind of similar, but I think it’s a little different [in Vancouver], being so close to the city. It’s a little different kind of vibe, just with kids playing and what towns they’re playing for or what clubs are around.” A stark difference from the environment he was familiar with as a boy in Hicksville. “I know just being from Long Island, every town has their own club basically. So it’s just a strong sense of wanting to play for your town.” The regionalism isn’t as intense in Vancouver from his perspective.
Parker graduated from Hicksville High School as the Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Yet that could have been his last year playing soccer. He had to make a big decision when it came to playing sports in college.
A Different Path
Parker could have been the star player for the New York Lizards. “I was recruited for lacrosse and was considering it but soccer ended up winning the battle”. As in any sport, it all came down to timing. “Lacrosse recruiting started so early that it starts actually a year earlier than soccer recruiting does, so for me, I wanted to wait and see what my soccer options were before I committed anywhere to play lacrosse.”
His time on the lacrosse field paid dividends. “I think, footwork-wise, you learn a lot how to play defense, kind of like basketball, in terms of your footwork and keeping people in front of you,” he said when asked what specifically he took away from his time playing the sport. “And then also, it kept me fit – it kept me so fit in the offseason when I wasn’t playing soccer.”
As with any defender waiting for the perfect moment to go for a tackle, he learned patience. It was that same patience which paid off as he decided to wait a year to accept a scholarship to play and was awarded a soccer scholarship to St. John’s University in Queens.
“I learned a lot in those four years, from Jeff [Mateo] and coach [Dave] Masur. Just, understanding of the game and I think I kind of developed [a] willingness to love to defend there that maybe I didn’t have when I was in high school.”
Big Red & Brooklyn
Big things were expected of Tim Parker, the High School Player of the year. Sure enough, his freshman year at St. John’s, the men’s soccer team went undefeated in and won the Big East Conference Tournament.
Given that level of success it seemed natural for him to begin to ask himself if he could be a professional soccer player. “It actually happened after my first year in college. I had a meeting with my coaches and they thought I had a good year and they thought I had potential to play at the pro level, so they put me on an accelerated graduation plan so that I would graduate after my senior season.”
Unfortunately for Parker he didn’t have his lacrosse team in the summer to stay fit. Fortunately for him, being in New York City, he found a local team to spend his summer break with: The Brooklyn Italians.
“I played for them for two summers. It was interesting, it’s a really great group, it’s a great environment, great people at that organization and it’s a different kind of level.” The Brooklyn Italians satisfied two requirements for Parker: it kept him fit and being in the NPSL, the team was considered an amateur team. That meant he wouldn’t lose NCAA eligibility by collecting a paycheck.
“Some guys play PDL, some guys play USL, I went with NPSL just because the people at that organization were awesome,” he said about his time with the Brooklyn Italians. “And I figured that I didn’t want to go and play for the Red Bulls or anyone like that just because I didn’t want to have any homegrown ties, so for me I wanted to play for a club with good people that would look out for you and someone you could have fun with.”
The Leap to Pro
Before he knew it, thanks to his accelerated program he was graduating with his classmates in 2014. Because Parker avoided playing for the Red Bulls’ development teams, he wasn’t bound to play for them and was eligible for the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. The 2015 SuperDraft was a memorable one because it marked the debut of expansion sides Orlando City and New York City FC. If this were any feel-good movie, Tim Parker would have been drafted by NYCFC, played close to home and been a stalwart for them in defense. Unforunately for Parker, NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis selected Chris Wingert, another Long Island born St. John’s graduate to play for his team just a few weeks earlier in the Expansion Draft. So naturally, given the nature of MLS, Parker was selected by furthest possible team from New York, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Connor Lade, who was on the St. John’s team during Parker’s freshman year, and Chris Wingert both reached out to Parker after the SuperDraft. “I didn’t reach out right away, they kind of sent me some congratulatory texts and kind of went from there.” Now, Wingert and Parker get together in the offseason to train.
While Chris Wingert played in the inaugural MLS game at Yankee Stadium for NYCFC, Parker would have to wait until April 30th, 2016 when Vancouver made the trip to New York City for the first time since he had been drafted.
“To be honest, I was nervous. I was nervous and I hadn’t been nervous for a while to play,” he said about the game. Close to three hundred of his friends and family made the trek to Yankee Stadium to see him play in New York City again. “I think it was just having all those people there, it meant a lot to me just to see how many people do support me back home”. The game ended in a 2-3 loss for the Whitecaps but Parker was happy to have gotten the chance to be back in New York again as it’s not a common occurrence. “I’d say only in the offseason, if I’m lucky I get a little break during the year that I can make the trip home but other than that it’s games and then offseason and hopefully one other time during the year.”
Growing the Game
The turnout from his friends and family were tremendous that game. It’s only natural that they would make the trip to Yankee Stadium having that personal connection to Tim, but normally MLS fans are a needle in a haystack of NFL, NBA and MLB fans in the United States. “I think we’re on the right trend,” said Parker on the growth of the game.
“MLS is still young, it’s still growing a lot but I think it just has to continue to grow and I think the owners need to continue to want this league to grow to get to the levels of the [other pro leagues].”
Parker believes the onus for growing the game in New York City and in the US as whole comes down to those who control the teams themselves. “I think it comes down to the owners and the TV networks, obviously the players will come and the quality will get better as the league grows and gets better, but I think ultimately it comes down to the owners and those TV deals,” he said. “I think getting it on TV as regularly as you see all these other sports. Once it starts catching peoples eyes, the game will start to grow and I think that’s just a common trend.”
Soccer has taken Tim Parker from Nassau County to Queens and Brooklyn before making the move to Vancouver. Starting in Hicksville playing as a forward and incorporating the lacrosse skills he picked up in high school, and the lessons he learned as a teen in Queens and Brooklyn, he ended up as a professional soccer player like his childhood idol John Terry. Given that he sees the New York soccer culture as playing to represent where you grew up it’s only natural to wonder if he’ll ever be defending in the New York City blue. But Parker isn’t thinking about that yet, even with his contract up at the end of the year. “I’m kind of just playing right now and living it and then just seeing what happens,” he said of his situation.
When asked for a piece of advice to share with aspiring athletes out there he reminds us not to take anything for granted. “ Listen as much as you can, soak it all in, just enjoy every moment of it because you never know when it will actually end.”
The Game Grows in New York is a continuation of a series of interviews with people who have unique perspectives who have played the game, follow the game, or are growing the game in New York City in their own unique way. You can read the previous interview here.