Parker Maher’s inaugural season as a professional soccer player mirrored that of Saint Louis FC’s inaugural campaign. A 5’11” midfielder from Joplin, Missouri, Maher played his college soccer at Missouri State before trying out for STLFC and earning a spot on the newly formed roster. A consistent presence in the midfield, Maher stood out to the coaching staff during the 2015 preseason and eventually accumulated over 2,100 minutes in the 2015 season, good for 2nd most among returning players, behind Sam Fink’s 2,520 minutes, and netted one goal during the season.
We recently had an opportunity to catch up with Parker as he trains with the Chicago Fire in their preseason camp in Tampa Bay, Florida.
STLFC: Parker, thanks for taking some time to talk with us today. How are you doing down in Florida?
PM: Doing well - loving it, having a lot of fun and learning a lot. Tampa is beautiful obviously. It’s warm down here. We got rained on pretty hard today in training but that’s alright.
STLFC: How does weather like that impact practice?
PM: Rain is good. It was a hard rain, so it makes your boots heavy and your sliders, jersey and everything else heavier obviously. But it makes the surface beautiful to play on and makes the ball glide. So, from a playing point it helps a lot, but as for your own body efficiency, the water weight slows you down, but it was good today.
STLFC: How did you spend your off season?
PM: I tried not to take too much of an off season. Obviously, I let my body rest and recover but I never stopped running. I kept my conditioning and fitness up and I’m probably the most conditioned I’ve ever been in my life. I went from college to playing professionally and the longer season helped to keep my conditioning up and I didn’t want to lose that so I just kept running every day, every other day, all through October, November and December. Took some days off over the holidays when I was with family as well.
I was also pretty fortunate to have the chance to train with Missouri State University down in Springfield. My former coach is there and I trained with some guys who were a part of the team when I was there. It’s good to get a structured practice in during the off season instead of always having to do stuff on your own. You’re always more limited when you have to do things by yourself. You can only run so much until you get sick of it so to get out and kick some balls with teammates and do some passing with pressure really helps.
STLFC: How was the transition from a three month college season to a longer professional season?
PM: The coaches did a great job of not running us into the ground and truly exhausting us. A coach can’t do that to a team – you can’t take that much continuous stress on your body from the heat, from the summer, from the physical impact on your legs. Your body can only take so much, but for myself, I was pretty blessed with no injuries or holdups. I probably had a few thoughts when it was brought up in the middle of the season because you don’t realize how long it is until you get halfway there and realize you still have half the season but when you’re doing something that you love so much, it doesn’t cross your mind. I was enjoying it, having fun, training every day and getting sharper. Part of it is mental too, to go to training each day and know this is my job, this my career and my commitment level is very high. I just want to get better and reach the highest level which helps push me.
STLFC: What did you learn from playing so much last season that you can apply to this season?
PM: I truly believe that soccer is such a confidence based game. When you get to a higher level where everyone is good, a lot of your success is from your mindset. Your confidence just has to be strong and you have to constantly build it, so each game, each practice, each touch you think to yourself “this time I’m going to beat this guy” or “this time I’m going to get a shot off” or whatever it might be. I think after last year, I’m going to be even more confident then I was and I’m looking to consistently be more dangerous. My touch and skills have improved from playing with Chicago and playing in the offseason, with playing full last year, and it should give me the ability to be the guy, to be more dangerous and to be more versatile.
STLFC: What can you say about your time with the Fire?
PM: I started playing as a midfielder, I played left mid. But all through college I played multiple positions which is good because in St. Louis I played left mid, right mid, left back and now in Chicago I was playing left mid and I told them I could play left back too so I’ve been playing more left back lately. It’s good to be a versatile player and play multiple positions because obviously it opens up more opportunity for yourself.
Something that has been expressed to me, and it’s been expressed before so I’ve been aware of it but with my touch, I sometimes kill a ball in front of me to control it when more often I need to go somewhere with my first touch. So I’ve been getting critiqued on my technical ability and constantly taking in the information, getting better, and being coachable.
STLFC: What’s it like being back with Kingsley [Bryce] and Patrick [Doody]?
PM: Good! Good, it’s nice to have familiar faces that I’ve already built a relationship with. I’m actually rooming with Kings in Tampa and I lived with him last year in St. Louis so we’ve formed a strong relationship. It helps you get though a tough training session and gives you a little bit of a relief when you have a friend like that around.
STLFC: What are you looking forward to most in 2016 with Saint Louis FC?
PM: Improvement! We know people were disappointed with the results from last year and we want to improve, we want to have a better record – the coaches, the players, everyone. It’s in our DNA, we’re professionals and we want to win, we want to be the best, we want to have a better record and win more home games for the fans and keep growing the organization.
STLFC: Do you have any personal goals for 2016?
PM: I want to be more dangerous and get more assists or potentially more goals. I don’t know where I will be playing right now, probably on the left side either mid or back, so left back would be more of an assist position, and left mid gives you more potential to score goals, but I just want to be more dangerous so I can help the team get more goals. More goals, more wins.
STLFC: What are your thoughts on moving to the Western Conference?
PM: I think it will be neat. I personally have never traveled to the west coast and I enjoy traveling so it will be cool to get the experience of going out west but my mind will obviously be on soccer and not a vacation. At the same time, we don’t know those teams as well. Video and film can only do so much which means we’ll need to be adaptable to facilities, how the fields are and so on but I know we’re certainly capable of that. I think it will be a good experience and traveling really brings a team together so that’s another plus.
STLFC: Have you been able to keep up with your teammates in the off-season?
PM: Briefly. It’s been somewhat hard sometimes because we’re all grown men and doing our own thing in the off season. Some guys are married and some guys are getting married and so on. I actually met up with Fink when I was in St. Louis a few weeks ago and it was good to see that he and his new wife were doing well. I caught up with Musa in camp with the Fire as well. Spoke with Charles and he’s doing well, excited to get back in and he’s been training. I’ve seen photos of Bushue and I know he’s been working hard and looking to do big things and I talk with Barklage. But I try to stay in touch with the guys - some of them, Jermie and Jamiel are in Jamaica so they’re a little more difficult to contact obviously.
STLFC: There is a lot of excitement in the community, on Twitter, etc for the 2016 season. What would you say to the supporters and fans who are chomping at the bit to get going this year?
PM: Keep it up! They did an excellent job of that last year. They kept that enthusiasm throughout the season, even in the tough times. That kind of optimism helps us more than they know. We love seeing the support and encouragement from the Louligans, the families in the stands and all the fans who come out and we’re going to do our best to win. Start now, start two weeks ago, keep it up, I’ll re-tweet you, I’ll tweet it with you, just keep it going.
Saint Louis FC opens its preseason camp on February 17th before traveling to Charleston, South Carolina on February 20. For ticket information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 636.680.0997