Keaton Parks may be new to the international scene, but we do know quite a bit about him. We know he’s a tall, lanky, technical midfielder.. We know he’s making waves at Benfica having proven himself as one of the team’s top academy pieces with four first team appearances this season. We know he has an impressive skillset when it comes to his ability on the ball and his ability to play within the midfield.
Those are things we know. What we don’t know is exactly where Parks will fit into the midfield picture for both club and country.
The 20-year-old midfielder is in the midst of his first U.S. Men’s National Team experience ahead of Monday’s friendly against Bolivia. Dave Sarachan’s squad featured a noticeable lack of central midfield options, giving Parks a fairly good chance of earning his first senior look.
That look can come at a number of differnet positions. Parks can certainly at any of the three central midfield spots, and it remains to be seen if he’s viewed as a No. 6, a No. 10 or a No. 8 going forward.
“I do feel more comfortable in the attack as a 10 for sure, but (Benfica) want me to play six a little bit,” Parks said. “With the A-team they want me to play six a little bit, but I also play 8 and 10 as well. With the B-Team, I played all three positions as well. I feel comfortable with all of them. I’m still learning the six spot a little bit, but I feel comfortable anywhere in the middle.”
It’s tough to find a comparison for Parks because he does have a unique look and skillset. He’s played central midfield his whole life and developed good footwork and good vision along the way. During his junior year of high school, though, Parks grew six inches, altering his game in many ways that required a major adjustment.
Now six foot three inches tall, Parks is a commanding presence in the midfield. After breaking through with the Benfica first team, the club reportedly views Parks as a player in the mold of Nemanja Matic, another tall, lanky, strong midfielder that has grown into one of the world’s premier No. 6s.
“When I hit my growth spurt, I had difficulties with my feet because of the height change,” Parks said. “I think I grew up playing possession ball, a lot of touches on the ball, so I think I have really good feet.
“I wouldn’t say I model off of anybody,” he added. “I watch a lot of soccer and I like to take notes on the best: Xavi, Iniesta. I’m slightly taller than they are, so I play a little different, but I wouldn’t say I model after anybody.”
Sarachan is, for the time being, charged with integrating Parks to the current USMNT. At 20, the midfielder is far from a finished product, and it remains to be seen where he fits in the long term.
In the short term, though, Sarachan played coy. He says he sees Parks playing “somewhere in the middle”. A lot will depend on how things play out and how the USMNT midfield shakes out with the friendlies looming.
“I’m still getting to know Keaton,” Sarachan said. “For a big tall kid, he moves well. His feet are good. Now, it’s a matter of positionally what’s best for him, but we’re still getting to know him each day.”
Regardless of where he plays or how much he plays, Parks is enjoying the experience. The midfielder only experienced brief tastes of the youth national team level as he fought to break through with Benfica.
That makes a potential USMNT debut even a bit sweeter for a player relishing the chance to play on home soil for the first time in some time.
“It would just be a huge step,” he said. “It wouldn’t be all for me. I don’t want to make one day about me, but that one mean the world to me. It’s been my dream to play for the national team since I was a little kid.
“I wouldn’t say it’s gone fast. It’s been a long journey. It would have been hard to believe, but I have worked towards it.