The chant could be heard around the 70th minute of Atlanta United’s game against New England at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Clap, clap, clap clap clap.
Clap, clap, clap clap clap.
And, in the 79th minute and for at least the 301st time in a 15-year career, Parkhurst took off his warm-up top and entered the game.
The captain, who will retire at season’s end -- he hopes he gets four more games -- received a standing ovation from the more than 46,000 in attendance. Atlanta United defeated New England 3-1. The two teams will meet in the a first-round playoff game on Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Nothing is unexpected from our fans anymore,” he said. “They’re the best in the league, and they have been since the very beginning, and I would say that we love playing in front of them. It’s a joy to play in front of, it’s so loud, and you know it meant a lot to hear my name being chanted there towards the end of the game. It was really loud. It was special. It will be something that I’ll be able to watch on tape a long time from now, when the kids are older, and maybe grandkids and stuff, and that’ll make it special.”
Parkhurst had already received a show of respect earlier in the game when Josef Martinez, after scoring to give Atlanta United a 2-1 lead, ran over and did his customary kneel-down celebration in front of Parkhurst. Martinez said he wanted to honor the team’s captain.
“Of course, it feels nice,” Parkhurst said. “I think that I can feel the love from the teammates, the respect, they wanted to play well today and make sure I got on the field, so, I appreciate that. It was a special day and getting into the game and being able to play in front of the fans again was even more special.”
Oh, but the praise wasn’t done.
Parkhurst received the Golden Spike given to the man of the match, and then Atlanta United President Darrel Eales presented him with a framed Atlanta United jersey. New England, the team that drafted Parkhurst in 2005 and with whom he spent his first four years, also gave him a framed jersey.
Parkhurst’s teammates kept the praise going after the game:
• “To see the reception that (Parkhurst) got when he came on and after the game, speaks volumes about him as a professional, teammate, and friend,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “He will forever be our first captain of this club. Rightfully so, he’s got a place in history. To see the reception and applause was tremendous.”
• “Mike is very special for us,” Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said. “He’s like the father or grandfather of all of us, and we love him a lot. We appreciate him as a player. He’s an incredible player. I think he had more to give us, but he decided to make this decision, and we’re going to support him, and we wish him the best in his career, and hopefully, we can have him working in the club if he wants because we’re going to miss him on the team. He’s a great reference, a great captain for us, and we’re very happy with him, and we’ll miss him.”
• “As I said before, he’s taught me so much on and off the field just how he composes himself, how he treats the game and how he studies the game,” Miles Robinson said. “I can’t say how much he means to me and this team and this city, but it was great that he got the chance he deserved tonight.”
• “I said, ‘I hope that Parky is going to come in for me,’ and it was a cool moment,” Julian Gressel said.
• “You can easily see that he is really a player who is committed to his job, to the club, to the fans, and to his teammates, so I think that is why ‘Tata’ (Gerardo Martino) made him captain,” manager Frank de Boer said. “Of course, because of his experience, but also because he is a great example, and he can translate what you are thinking directly to the game. He did it for three years, so for every coach, it is fantastic to have those guys on your team like Jeff (Larentowicz) and Michael. So, yeah, what I experienced during that hectic period that we had of like seven or eight months, he was a great example. He never complained when he did not play. Of course, he was disappointed, but he always trained very hard so that I knew whenever he was needed, he would be ready. That is so nice to have as a coach, and I think that is why a lot of youth players look up to him, because he is a great example.”
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