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Whatever happened to… Jeff Parke and Jeremiah White?

Photo: Courtesy of NXT Soccer

There comes a time in every athlete’s life when you need to think about what comes next.

The body breaks down, injuries accumulate, and retirement looms, likely in your early thirties. Some players don’t even make it that far.

For Jeff Parke, it happened at age 33, and it happened suddenly. The former Philadelphia Union center back was traded to D.C. United in 2014 and played 14 games before he was forced to give it up.

“To be honest man, when I got injured, it happened so fast, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to think about it, it was basically on the fly,” Parke recently told The Philly Soccer Page. “You know, I always had an idea of what I wanted to do when I retired, but I felt like, at the age of 33, I still had a few more good years because I took care of my body so well. I didn’t have any major injuries, any problems, wasn’t losing a step, and I could still play at a high level. I really honestly didn’t think it would end my career that fast.”

It was a similar situation for Haverford School alumnus Jeremiah White. After wrapping up a foreign spell that took him to Greece, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, France, and Poland, White came back to MLS and trialed with the Union before ultimately signing with New England.

“I retired a few times,” White joked. “I retired after Poland. A little bit after Saudi Arabia I was going to stop. Then I got a good offer in Poland, and I just kind of had to take it. I retired then, then I was a little bummed out [I] wasn’t playing, so I went to MLS. I got a concussion in preseason, a concussion midway through, and then three concussions in a short amount of time, and then I think I had a mild fracture of my ankle. So I knew it was someone telling me to move on. It was an interesting transition for me and a difficult one, but I’m really thankful I started exploring what I was going to do next while I was still playing.”

White says he comes from a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s not surprising that he started “JaySocial” while still playing soccer. Today he’s the CEO of the Elkins Park-based software company and an investor in other businesses.

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Lansdowne native Jeremiah White is now the president of NXT Soccer. Photo courtesy of NXT Soccer.

JaySocial was a success, and other ventures were keeping him busy, but something was missing. White wanted to do something related to soccer and the career that took him to seven different countries.

“My software company grew and we had some cool concepts, like with the Saudi Arabian Olympic committee,” White said. “First we started in healthcare, then we got into sports, like on a major stage, and that kind of lead to (other things). I did the podcast and other things, then I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to get back into soccer’. I started another company called White Sport Ventures and basically I did training, private training, and that just scaled really quickly. I needed a way to scale what I had built on and I partnered with NXT Sports, and we did a 50/50 venture on NXT Soccer. Basically, what NXT soccer is, it’s an environment where we bring in the very best coaches available and put the players through a rigorous training environment without calling it professional, you know? And then we give them exposure to coaches that they normally would never have access to.”

White was having success with NXT Soccer and built a staff that included Penn Fusion’s Stefan Syzgiel and Old Dominion standout Jordan LeBlanc. The venture began to grow and White needed someone to head up his boy’s coaching program.

Meantime, Parke was back in Philadelphia and looking for a new gig.

“Long story short, I took some time off and did some reflecting,” Parke said. “I had to retire due to the injuries. There was a bittersweet ending and I really didn’t come to grips with leaving the game. That’s why it took some time. Ultimately I got in touch with ‘Jerry’ and Jerry kind of convinced me that this is where my heart is going to be. I started going to training and enjoying the experience again, being around young players and really feeding off their energy and seeing that it’s where I was at one time.”

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Former Union center back Jeff Parke is NXT Soccer’s Director of Boy’s Coaching. Photo courtesy of NXT Soccer.

Parke says he could have been a developer or maybe start a real estate career with his father-in-law.

Now he and White are running training sessions out of South Philadelphia’s Naval Yard and a number of high schools and other locations across the region.

“My heart really goes to the point where, I didn’t have an opportunity to really be seen until late,” said Parke of his career path. “It didn’t really help me get to where I needed to be at the time, but God has a path and ultimately I went to MLS anyway, so it really didn’t matter in the end. But I wanted to help kids, one, learn the game, and two, learn all the aspects of the game so they can take that and develop it and be educated so that they can make a decision and go to the next level if that’s what they want. Or, they can go to college and have a chance to go to the school of their dreams and be seen and heard. Through Jerry’s and my connections, I think that our level of (experience) we can help those kids develop into that and ultimately get to where they want to be.”

White describes NXT as “club neutral.” It isn’t a feeder program for FC Delco, or the Union Academy, but it also isn’t necessarily competing against other local programs. He stresses the fact that his staff has experience at the highest levels of the game, and can relate that experience to trainees.

“It’s a training ground for players, but much more in depth,” says White. “I mean, you know, especially with Jeff involved now, what I’ve done in the past is really tailor the training and everything that comes with it, I’ve tailored that based on my playing experiences. Basically I’ve taken the best practices, things for me that made sense, but that were also scalable and translatable to kids from our area. I went to the Haverford School, and Jeff went to Downingtown, you know? So basically taking those really big things and trying to break them up into small bite sized pieces, to bring kids along, that’s what we are, what we do. We’re a club-neutral, high-level training company that services boys and girls in our region.”

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Climbing the ladder, or putting it on the ground for footwork drills. Photo courtesy of NXT Soccer.

Why didn’t it work out with the Union?

Parke joined the Union in 2013 after three successful years with the Seattle Sounders. He arrived with Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux as part of John Hackworth’s plan to replace Peter Nowak’s foreign signings with experienced MLS veterans.

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Jeff Parke battles Marco Di Vaio at Stade Saputo. The 2013 Union bagged a franchise record 12 wins but missed the playoffs by three points. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union.

It wasn’t Philadelphia’s most talented team, but the 2013 squad started well enough and even pulled off some unexpected results, such as the road wins in Vancouver and Colorado and a scoreless draw that earned the franchise its first-ever point inside of Red Bull Arena.

The Union backline was rather stable outside of a few bad games against Los Angeles, Montreal, and New England. Parke seemed to have a decent pairing with converted midfielder Amobi Okugo, and Jack McInerney’s goal-scoring form got him a sniff at the U.S. national team. Ultimately, the team faded down the stretch, and the midfield received criticism for not being able to generate enough offense, all while Kleberson and Roger Torres sat on the bench.

Philadelphia finished with a franchise-record 12 wins but missed the playoffs by three points.

“Oh man, it was bitter,” said Parke of the 2013 team. “I came from Seattle where we were winning trophies and one of the top teams, top clubs in the league every year. I came here and it was just that feeling of, ‘we’re almost there,’ but you’re not. I think at the time we were just young at certain spots. We needed some more veteran leadership with guys who have more experience and who have played in those big games. Being with the team in a season where they knew they needed to up their game and push through to get those two or three wins needed at the end of the year, that would have made a huge difference. I remember so clearly that game against Houston. We were at home and they were almost level on points with us. They came up to our place, they were doing alright, and they snuck a goal in on a free kick and we lost 1-0. I think that was the point that just changed the season. It was just like, man, our team wasn’t scoring goals, we were giving up one goal a game. Games ended up being 2-1 or 1-0. I don’t think we scored at all for five games or something like that.”

The Union were still in good shape after the August 17 draw at New York.

But the next four games were an indicator of things to come, as the team was crushed 5-1 in New England before limping to a scoreless home draw against Montreal. A pair of 1-0 losses followed, and the club stumbled offensively down the stretch.

“It’s tough because those are the moments that you need to lift your game, have a gut check, look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘This is the time to step it up,'” Parke added. “I think we just failed in that aspect of the game, and it’s not directed towards the players. It’s just experience. It’s funny, now I’m looking at what Jerry and I are doing and it’s amazing because we have that experience. We know what it takes to get to the next level. We’ve been around some of the best trainers in the world and we want to bring those aspects to other people. At the end of the day, if you’ve never been in a situation like that, (sometimes) all you have to do is squeak out two wins and just bunker down. Teams wind up going for a win when all they need is a tie. Or they need to just push a little bit harder to get that draw away to get that extra point that adds up at the end of the year. It was a really tough place for me, because I was so invested in the season and I was really excited to take the team back to the playoffs and we just came up short. We didn’t get enough points in maybe the last seven games of the year. We were so close but we just fell short.”

That winter, Parke approached Hackworth to request a trade. It was less than one year since the Abington native had returned home, and the news took everyone by surprise.

What was the “personal reason” that was forcing him to leave Philadelphia?

Parke spoke with the Washington Post during his brief tenure at D.C. United, telling Steven Goff that being at home “wasn’t as sweet as it once was.” It seemed like there was some sort of family issue that understandably was not made public.

“I just wanted a different challenge,” Parke said about the trade request. “I thought that coming home was what my heart wanted, and it really wasn’t. At the time I was a bit divided on certain thoughts and feelings. I thought that where I was playing, I needed to be elsewhere. It was a personal reason, it was nothing against the Union, it just wasn’t the path I was trying to go. At the end of the day, you want to challenge yourself and do something to further your career. That’s what I was doing it for, for the better of my family, and I thought there were too many distractions here at home. It really wasn’t what I wanted to do at that time in my life. I had to make a really tough decision for my family, but I enjoyed my time with the Union and I was playing well. There were things that needed to be done for me, and I needed to move on.”

As for White, he was a Union trialist in 2012 but ultimately signed with New England.

Photo by Earl Gardner

Jeremiah White faced his hometown Union as a member of the New England Revolution during this April, 2012 reserve league game in Wallingford. Photo: Earl Gardner

It was his second go-round with Philadelphia, and the first meeting took place before the inaugural 2010 season. White was interested in playing for his hometown team, but said he didn’t sign because it “just came down to contracts.”

“I was — actually I remember before the team started, Nick (Sakiewicz) and Rob (Smith) invited me to dinner,” White told PSP. “People don’t know this, but I would have been the first person signed. I was home on break, but I decided to go to the Middle East, obviously.”

White signed for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ettifaq. In a 2010 interview with PSP, he described the move as “financial” but also said he wanted the experience of living and playing in the Middle East. Knowing what we know about Philadelphia Union finances, it’s not a stretch to assume that White’s software company and other business ventures might not have come to fruition if he chose Chester over Damman six years ago. Some of that money is now being reinvested into Philadelphia’s soccer community via NXT Soccer.

That’s the best part of the story — local guys finding a way to contribute to the community even though it didn’t work out on the field.

Read more about Jeremiah White and Jeff Parke’s training programs at NXTSoccer.com

8 Comments

  1. Be interesting to see what comes of NXT.. I’ve been following for a little while.
    .
    Good luck.

  2. love it, thanks KK

  3. Great article, Kevin. I remember an interview with Parke a few years ago where it seemed pretty clear that he didn’t want to go into coaching when he retired. I’m glad that he changed his mind.

    Jeremiah is an interesting guy and I’m glad to see him stay involved with the game locally as well.

  4. Section 114 (Formerly) says:

    Running out of time to repeat this:
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  5. Looks like YSC got a little competition…
    Funny how NXT are also only 3 letters

  6. NXT is also a lacrosse school: http://nxtlacrosse.com/

    These are good guys but I’m not sure how different this is from any other pay-for-coaching business focused on suburban kids who can afford it.

    I’d rather they get parent $s than some Brit expats who get jobs because of their accents, but I’m not sure how newsworthy it is.

  7. For what it is worth, Jeremiah White in his first year as a club soccer coach (Lower Merion Soccer Club) has led his team to a Region 1 championship and they head to Nationals next week.

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