Standing in the locker room, a phalanx of reporters surrounding him, Michael Parkhurst patiently answered questions, something he has done hundreds of times in his professional soccer career.
The difference between those times — from him standing in a dark, cold hallway on a windy night in Costa Rica to the palace that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium with its carpeted floors and state-of-the art design — is that Wednesday was Parkhurst’s last gaggle.
Atlanta United, the team he captained for three seasons, was just eliminated by Toronto 2-1 in the MLS playoffs. It was the last game for Parkhurst, who announced in late September that he was retiring.
“I do not know if the emotions have hit me yet,” he said. “I am just disappointed about the game. I will probably think about the career here soon, but tonight is just unfortunate. It was right there for us to host (MLS Cup) again.
“Like I said, we had a great start, great energy from the crowd tonight, it was awesome out there, and I will miss playing in front of those types of atmospheres for sure.”
His resume reads like a candidate for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame: One MLS Cup, one Campeones Cup, two U.S. Open Cups, five MLS Cup appearances, 2005 Rookie of the Year, 2007 Defender of the Year, 2006 Humanitarian of the Year, six-time All-Star, UEFA Champions League appearances, two-time Gold Cup winner with the U.S. men’s national team. Oh, and one goal.
The trophies were the result of Parkhurst’s intelligence, anticipation and ability to read the game. His leadership unquestioned. He also captained Columbus, which traded him to Atlanta United in December 2016.
“It has been an absolute honor to share the field with (Parkhurst), to call him a teammate, a captain, a leader, and a friend,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “To see his career and everything he has achieved, and then go out the way we did tonight, it is disappointing, and that is one of the reasons it is disappointing. We had so much at stake for someone like him, and we came up a little bit short tonight.”
That Parkhurst started his 330th game in all MLS competitions was a bit of a shock. He suffered an injury to his left shoulder in the final minutes of the first-round win against New England. He didn’t make the 18 for the win against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but was back on the training pitch Monday for Toronto prep. He said he knew a few days before Wednesday that he was going to start.
There was a time this season in which it seemed that Parkhust wouldn’t again start for Atlanta United. He had been supplanted in the starting lineup at centerback by Miles Robinson. It took a hamstring injury to Robinson last month to put Parkhurst consistently into the lineup.
“When I made the announcement, it was tough going for me, personally, but that is the nature of sports, you never know,” he said. “That is why you have to be prepared, and you never know when things are going to change in your fortune. I was very happy that I was able to get back in and play some games here at the end of season and finish off my career playing rather than just watching.”
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