Keaton Parks developing into young leader for New York City FC

The 22-year-old midfielder, on loan from S.L. Benfica, draws praise from his manager and teammates for doing the little things to win.

Keaton Parks may not win “Man of the Match” every week, but he’s quietly become the glue that holds the New York City FC midfield together.

In his first MLS season, Parks has started 14 games for the Blues and the club has won 10 of those matches. On loan from Portuguese club S.L. Benfica, his recent play has stirred up talk of a potential contract extension with NYCFC.

Manager Doménec Torrent remembers he wanted the 22-year-old midfielder to find his confidence on and off the ball when he first arrived. It happened quicker than anticipated.

“He had focus just when he had the ball, and right now he helps our team even when we don’t have the ball,” Torrent said of Parks’ growth during the 2019 season. “He covers a lot of balls. He is an amazing player right now for our team. It’s very important to us to have a player like Keaton. I have said many times that he has improved a lot. It’s not for me, it’s for him.”

Admired by his teammates for his willingness to do the dirty work — hold possession and pass with sterling accuracy — Parks was finally rewarded with his first MLS goal against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 14, sparking a comeback win that resulted in the Blues clinching a first-round home playoff match.

“It feels amazing,” Parks told reporters after striking his first MLS goal off a rebound. “I feel like I’ve contributed a lot to this team, but so has everybody. To get my first goal in the MLS and contribute and get a win feels really good.”

Teammates are looking to the Plano, Texas, native as a key contributor as NYCFC sets its sights on a deep postseason run.

“He’s a young player, but he grows game by game,” said forward Gary Mackay-Steven. “He can do whatever he wants. He’s a big, physical boy who’s good with his feet as well. He’s a really important player to the team and he has great character off the pitch as well.”

NYCFC (16-5-10, 58 points) remains in first place after a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas on Sunday, and locking the top spot in the Eastern Conference is well within reach. With three matches left on the schedule for NYCFC, a win against second-place Atlanta United (17-11-3, 54 points) on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium would put the Blues a commanding seven points ahead in the race for the top seed in the East.

The last time NYCFC met defending MLS champion Atlanta last month, they fell 2-1. The Blues haven’t lost a match since, tallying six wins and two draws.

Chris Longo