Looking back on those first days with Atlanta United, before the team had a stadium, or even a training ground, it took a leap of faith for a player to sign up. And even though Michael Parkhurst knew about the ambition of Arthur Blank, Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra, there was still no way to know how it would turn out when he signed up.
“Coming to an expansion team, you never know,” he says, looking back. “You just know how other expansion teams and their track record, how long it takes them to get things going and be successful. There has been an outlier or two, but for the most part, it’s really challenging.”
Moving to Atlanta wasn’t really in the plan at all. A long-time member of the Columbus Crew, Parkhurst expected to finish his career there. But what started out as a low point ended up an incredible high.
“It was meant to be,” he says. “It was a blessing. To come down here and have these three years here, it’s been unbelievable. It honestly couldn’t have gone any better, I’m so thankful that it worked the way it did and I was able to take advantage of it. That the club has been matching my goals as far as wanting to win trophies right away and what they’ve put into the team.”
It’s been an incredible ride from there, with Parky winning his first career MLS Cup after falling in the finals four times. Then he added two more trophies this year, and has eyes on another. But every player, even the best, know at a certain point their time has come.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I just wanted to get it off my chest. Talking to the staff and figuring out when the best time to get it out there was. We decided today was best. Before the last game or before playoffs start, I didn’t want it to be a distraction at all. I’m happy with it. It’s a decision I’m confident in. There won’t be any comeback or anything. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
It's important to note that Parkhurst isn’t hanging up the cleats yet –– he still very much has eyes on the rest of this season and helping his team in every way he can. But it’s fair to take a moment to reflect on the impact he and this team have had on the city of Atlanta.
“I think that we all, as a club, have had a big impact,” he says. “What we have brought here to the club, and to the surrounding area, they’ve embraced us and we’ve embraced them too. We try to get out there in the community and be positive role models for kids. To sign autographs, to take pictures, to take the time to interact with fans, it’s important. It’s still a growing sport. We don’t have the success we had, the amazing atmosphere without our fans.”
That’s made even more special by the fact that Michael Parkhurst was the leader of the team, the first captain in club history.
“It’s really special,” he says. “I knew that when they made me club captain a couple years ago. I think that the fact that we had the success that we had, that we bring four trophies to the club in less than three years, it makes it even more special. It’s a great honor, something I take great pride in. Thankful that I will be remembered as that.”
Atlanta United and its home city have had an impact on Parkhurst as well. So much so that despite playing for several teams in his career, he wanted to be sure to retire in red, black and gold.
“Coming in, I knew this could possibly be the last year,” he says. “If it was, and now it turns out it is, absolutely I wanted to retire an Atlanta United player. It’s a great organization, a great team. To have the almost 3 seasons that we have had, the support that we have got from the city, just what Atlanta United means in this city, it’s amazing. To be a big part of that is special.”
Parky doesn’t know what’s to come at the end of the season. He says he expects to stay involved in soccer, but he doesn’t know where. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his family, and no, he doesn’t know who Darlington will call on his shoe phone. But all that is in the future. What’s next?
“New York City on Wednesday,” he says, with a trademark laugh.