ATL UTD players bid farewell to their first captain

Wednesday may have marked the end of an Atlanta United season, but it will also go down as the final match for one of the all-time MLS greats in defender and Atlanta United’s first captain, Michael Parkhurst. It was a bittersweet moment, and a rare moment of real reflection in the post-match media.

“It’s wonderful that he was able to play a part in this run at the end,” said fellow MLS veteran Jeff Larentowicz. “To be honest, the fact that he bounced back after having his shoulder come out the way it did in that game was awesome, unexpected.”

It was a small act of heroism that Parkhurst made it onto the field at all, just a couple weeks after dislocating his shoulder against the New England Revolution. It showed the kind of toughness and desire he still had with just a few weeks remaining in his career.

“It has been an absolute honor to share the field with him to call him a teammate, a captain, a leader, and a friend,” added Brad Guzan. “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.”

“I think it’s still a positive,” Larentowicz added. “We won two titles, reached the conference final – those are positive things. We’re leaving with a bitter taste because we gave all of our effort to win the game, and it seems to me that Toronto just defended and with two shots on goal takes the conference, but that’s it. We won two titles. We kept putting Atlanta on top.”

It’s been a whirlwind of a month for Parkhurst himself. When he announced his retirement he was largely being used as a substitute. But after a couple injuries to his teammates, Parkhurst was thrust back into a key starting role –– and only showed he still had plenty left to give his teammates.

“When I made the announcement, it was tough going for me, personally,” Pakhurst said after the match. “But that is the nature of sports, you never know. 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.”

But whether it was on the field or in the locker room, it was as apparent as ever how important he has been to his teammates after he walked off the pitch for the last time.

“I’m so thankful for everything he’s done for us and everything he’s done for me, and just happy that I’ve gotten to play with him and I’ve gotten to know him,” Julian Gressel said. “He means a lot to us as a team, and he’s a good friend of mine and not to have him around the locker room on a daily basis, seeing him, talking to him about different things, I’ll certainly miss that.”

For Parky himself, there are plenty of things he’ll miss in his next chapter, but first and foremost he mentioned the camaraderie with his teammates and the thrill of playing in front of the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I will miss the banter in the locker room, playing in front of crowds like this, the atmosphere, the adrenaline, and I will miss winning games and celebrating in the locker room.”

One of his biggest mentees since joining the team has been Julian Gressel, who credited Parkhurst with showing him how to be a pro on and off the field. He summed it best, saying:

“It hurts to lose him,” Julian Gressel said. “He’s a great guy, and I’ll miss him. I’m sure everybody in this locker room will miss him, and he’s had a great career. I’m getting a little emotional, but that’s the step he wants to take and he’s had an incredible career.”