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Training Ground Insider: ATL UTD heading into postseason on a high

Sports are so often about what’s next; being prepared for your next opponent, striving for the next goal. But the team got a rare moment of reflection during Sunday night’s match against the New England Revolution as Michael Parkhurst came onto the field for his final regular season appearance.

“To see the reception that Parky got when he came on and after the game, speaks volumes about him as a professional, teammate, and friend,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan after the match. “He will forever be our first captain of this club. Rightfully so, he’s got a place in history.”

“It was great that he got the chance he deserved tonight,” added Miles Robinson. “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. I can’t say how much he means to me and this team and this city.”

No one felt the love more than Parkhurst himself, who got the loudest cheer of the night when he entered the game with just over ten minutes to play.

“Nothing is unexpected from our fans anymore,” he said. “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.”

But Parkhurst himself will tell you that their goals extend well beyond the regular season. So after a moment to soak in, it’s all eyes forward on what the win means for the postseason.

“Very happy [with the result],” said Ezequiel Barco through a translator after his return to the starting lineup. “I think we needed this win to start the playoffs on the right foot and in the best way.”

“Leading up to the game, we talked about using this as a springboard of confidence, especially being our last regular season game and at home,” Guzan said. “We wanted to go out in a good way before this international break and ultimately leading up to the first round of the playoffs. We knew that if we won, we’d be playing these guys again. We wanted to send a message that they’re coming into our house, and it’s not going to be easy in two weeks’ time. Over the course of 90 minutes, we probably did that.”

Perhaps no one was feeling better after the game than Julian Gressel, after a two-assist, goal-scoring performance that earned him Man of the Match honors. But he’s focused on the collective over individual honors.

“What’s important is that we feel good as a team,” he said. “After that second half, I think we can go with our heads held high into the playoffs, with a lot of confidence. (We will) see that team again (and) send them home with their heads down with a loss here.”

That’s where the focus now stays: the re-match in two weeks. The team may have gotten all three points this weekend, but they still have areas they want to work on to make sure they can repeat the result with their postseason lives on the line.

“[Sunday] was exactly what we expected, and I think they also expected how we played today, so there were no secrets,” said Frank de Boer. “I have heard that Bruce Arena is a coach that can suddenly make changes, so we have to be ready and prepared for that, and we have two weeks to do that.”

“When they come back, it’s not going to be easy,” added Guzan. “It’s going to be even harder. We now use this time to get better on the training field. It’s going to be a playoff game. In the playoffs, anything can happen. It means nothing where you finish. It’s one and done. You’ve got to fight for your lives and fight for every inch that you get come playoff time.”

The two teams will be back on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium pitch on October 19th for the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. Make sure to reserve your spot for the beginning of the Five Stripes’ MLS Cup defense by getting your tickets here.

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