Tim Parker wins a header vs. Seattle’s Will Bruin last season.  (Jennifer Buchanan/USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Tim Parker flew into Tijuana to be with the Red Bulls for their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match with the Mexican side Tuesday night.

But don’t expect the former St. John’s University standout defender to start in the first-leg match. He still must acclimate himself with the team and its system.

“He feels like he’s fit and ready to go,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said recently. “He’s obviously very excited. We’ll err on the side on throwing him into things right away.”

And for good reason.

“We’ll have to update him a little bit on tactics and how we do things, but we’ll be ready to use him,” Marsch said.

The 6-2, 195-lb. Parker has been on the Red Bulls’ radar for at least two years before they pulled the trigger on a trade that sent midfielder Felipe and $500,000 in Target Allocation Money to Vancouver Whitecaps FC last week.

“We always make a wish list,” Marsch said. “It’s hard to get a lot of the pieces off the wish list because it requires major pieces from us. Tim is someone we’ve been trying to get access to for at least two years. So now that we have the opportunity, it’s exciting because when you find the players that fit the way you play, then that’s when you have the best chance to integrate them properly and give them the best chance to succeed within our team.”

Marsch felt the Hicksville, N.Y. native was a fit with “what we do from a mentality and soccer perspective, physical perspective, almost perfectly.”

The 25-year-old Parker started 74 games over 76 appearances for Vancouver the past three seasons, mostly at center back. So, he has been around the MLS block and then some.

“He understands our league,” sporting director Denis Hamlett said. “He understands the competition we’re playing against in terms of the forwards. So, we feel that adjustment will be easier. … He has all the attributes in terms of what we look for in a center back in terms of his commitment to defending, his 1 v 1, he’s a strong defender. He’s good in the air. He’s got good pace. So, he has everything that we look for.”

Parker’s addition has given the Red Bulls more flexibility in the back. Marsch now has three starting center backs from which to choose, including Aurelien Collin and Aaron Long.

“We can play with three in the back, we can play with four,” Marsch said. “All of a sudden, our options in the back become really exciting. In the end, that will dictate our success. If we’re a good defensive team this year, then I know we’ll get results. I feel like we have a well-rounded team right now.”