The opportunity to win trophies as a professional comes down to how successful a team plays when it truly matters. Even some of most talented rosters can still fall short of their goal and will always be remembered for what could have been.
35-year-old Michael Parkhurst has yet to savor an MLS Cup in his 13-year professional career which has seen stints in Denmark, Germany, and the United States. Despite over 100+ appearances with both the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution, the veteran center back has been on the losing end four times in his career.
However, a new chance comes on Saturday as Parkhurst and Atlanta United take on the Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the 2018 edition of MLS Cup. On paper, the Five Stripes should have enough to get the job done in front of their home fans. As he aims for a place in Tata Martino’s starting XI following an injury in the Eastern Conference finals, he reflected back on how the final has changed since his first involvement in 2005.
“Having the higher seed host the game has been a good change for MLS,” Parkhurst said. “It’s a good reward for the team who finishes better in the regular season, but also for the environment its good too. Even in Columbus when we hosted it, it was almost like a National Team atmosphere. That amplifies the game a lot.”
“It’s a bigger event now than it was back then. You control your own destiny, earning a first round bye, hosting supporters shield, hosting the Cup. We wanted to win Supporters Shield but it’s comforting to host the final even though we finished just behind the Red Bulls.”
Parkhurst has captained the Five Stripes this season, while making 37 appearances in 2018. It is the fifth consecutive season in which he has made 30+ appearances for a club. He has continued to be a model teammate and professional for a roster of players who are mixed with young stars and seasoned veterans.
However, after leaving Atlanta’s 1-0 second leg defeat to the Red Bulls on November 29, his presence in the final was in doubt due to an ankle injury. Parkhurst has used this last week to recover, and would be a major loss to the Five Stripes backline should he not be available. The defender is confident to make an impact in the match, which could also see the departure of head coach Tata Martino and playmaking midfielder Miguel Almiron due to respective links away from the club.
“I’ve been doing a lot of elevation and icing, trying to lot of taking care of my ankle,” Parkhurst said. “I’ve been off my feet a lot. Fortunately for me we had nine days in between games, if it was a shorter turnaround it would’ve been difficult. But it’s MLS Cup, a bum ankle isn’t going to hold me back.”
“Putting those guys aside you want to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them,” Parkhurst said. “Things come and go, and success sometimes isn’t sustainable. The club itself, the ambitions, and the money we’ve spent, you figured we would be up for trophies every year. But you never know, when you get the opportunity you have to close the deal. I’ve been here four times and haven’t won so it would be ideal to win and send Tata off as a champion but also to lift a trophy for the hard work we’ve put in this season.”
While Parkhurst remains a game-time decision for the MLS Cup, his legacy in the league is something that will not be forgotten. Like teammate Brad Guzan, he has taken his talents overseas and returned to MLS in order to give back to the league and show his ability even a newer age of the game itself. Guzan has noticed the impact that Parkhurst has made with Atlanta United, and how important that veteran will be on Saturday night if he is available.
“It’s been good, I think those two guys are great for us,” Guzan said. “You look at what Jeff [Larentowicz] has been able to do in this league for so long and so consistently, it’s something special. You look at Parky, who was in the league, went overseas, came back and it’s like he’s never missed a beat. Those guys have played a huge part in us as a team. Parky and Jeff they’ve been huge for us, especially with just bringing our team together and doing the little things that don’t go as noticed as they do.”