Parkhurst appreciates Atlanta United’s ambition

Jan 24, 2018
ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
March 18, 2017, Atlanta: Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (right) celebrates his second of two goals against the Chicago Fire for a 4-0 victory in their MLS game on Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Michael Parkhurst has played for the clubs who had ambition, but not the money-where-the-emotion-is ambition that Atlanta United is showing in its second season in MLS.

After breaking an MLS transfer record with the acquisition of Miguel Almiron last season, President Darren Eales and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra did it again last week with the addition of Ezequiel Barco. That, after they had already traded with Portland for Darlington Nagbe for a record amount of Allocation Money.

Eales and Bocanegra have made no secret of this season’s goals: win the MLS Cup.

“I’ve been on the other side of it for most of my career, looking at those teams, very envious,” Parkhurst said.  “Sometimes you think, ‘Man, if only. How do they fit so many high-priced players under the cap? Are they bending rules?’

“Also, jealous. You want to be a part of that team and now I am. I’m thankful. I can understand that there would be people or players out there envious of our situation and when there is that case, and obviously the national media paid attention to us last year and the crowds deservedly so got attention because they were fantastic.”

Parkhurst, 34, previously played for Columbus from 2014-16 and New England from 2005-07 . Both teams experienced a lot of success with three runners-up appearances in the MLS Cup with Parkhurst but aren’t known as big-spending clubs.

“Sure, it can rub people the wrong way, us being the first time in the league and haven’t won a trophy yet and to some we were the darlings of the league last year,” he said. “But, for us on the field it doesn’t matter. We love the attention we get from the fans. It’s fantastic. If that brings more attention to us from national media and local media then the better it us for us. I’m glad I get to enjoy it.”

The team opened training camp on Monday, which is when Parkhurst met with the media.

Q. Do you expect this camp to be more or less serious than last year when you were learning about each other and Gerardo Martino’s tactics?

A. It’ll be just as serious. Preseason is very important. It doesn’t matter if you are a brand new team or have been together for a while. You still want to get the group together. There’s always new faces that you want to integrate into the team. New tactics that the coaching staff has been thinking about all offseason that they want to implement. And it’s the time to put in the work to get that fitness base for the rest of the season. It’s an important time, a serious time.

Of course, there are guys out there fighting for jobs, fighting for contracts. They’ll be out there fighting for it every day.

Q. Your thoughts on signing Nagbe, Barco and Escobar.

A. It’s been an exciting offseason, for sure. There have been some great signings. Obviously, looking back we were proud of the things we accomplished last year even though we fell short at the end. We definiately got better. That’s great. You always want to improve. It doesn’t matter how you did last year. You always want to get better and push the envelope. The staff did that for us so it’s great competition for spots.

Barco is the big signing. They spent a ton of money to get him. We expect him to be a difference maker for us and someone who slots directly into the lineup. Darlington is a fantastic player as well. Really respected for what he can do on the field. A good guy off the field as well.

Franco I don’t know as much about but I know he will play along the backline as well. A big, strong guy. Seems like a nice guy in the locker room.

Guys who will push us to get better and push for starting spots. That’s what you want.

Q. Toronto won the Cup but haven’t added any significant players so far. Do you feel like yall are going to enter as the team to beat?

A. No. Until you go out there and do it you can’t be the team to beat. Toronto is the team to beat. They have the trophy right now. They were undoubtedly the best team in the league last year from start to finish. 

That shouldn’t change by one offseason.

We have high expectations for the team but Toronto is a great example that just spending money doesn’t equal trophies, it doesn’t equal wins. They spent money for a long time and just won their first trophy.

It’s about going out there and doing it and winning games.

Q. Does your captaincy carry over or do you have to re-earn it?

A. Good question. I’m going to assume it until I know otherwise.

It doesn’t really change anything for me. Of course, you get to wear the armband on game day but whether I am or not how I conduct myself in the locker room and on the field is to be a leader of this team as well, whether I have the arm band or not.

I leave that decision up to Tata.