Postcard from Europe: Parkhurst shines for Nordsjælland
Fresh from raising a second consecutive Ekstra Bladet Cup on Sunday night, sudden FC Nordsjælland handyman Michael Parkhurst feels his underdog team deserves a lot of credit for bagging a rare repeat.
Only five clubs have won consecutive Danish Cups in its 56-year history, with AGF Aarhus the last to do the deed back in 1988. This feat hasn’t even been accomplished by league giants Brøndby and FC Copenhagen, but now the Wild Tigers can claim it against the odds.
"For being such a small club, it's quite an accomplishment to win it once," Parkhurst (above at left) told MLSsoccer.com by phone. "Then to go back and do it again — it's a big feat, especially for a club this size."
Having tamed the Black Wolves in last year's final, Nordsjælland blew two leads this time before Søren Christensen's stoppage-time winner gave them a famous 3-2 triumph on a day where they weren't at their collective sharpest.
"In the final, anything can happen," Parkhurst said. "We didn't even play that well, Midtjylland were the better team. But that's okay with us. We took advantage of our chances and that's what you have to do."
The silver victory stands as his fourth straight happy ending to a cup final. In 2007, Parkhurst worked two games as the US national team won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, then went the distance for the New England Revolution in the US Open Cup decider over title match hosts FC Dallas.
Of course, the 27-year-old is no stranger to the long face of a runner-up finish. He empathizes with the soul-searching going on in the losers' camp and is very grateful to be standing on greener grass again.
"I feel for Midtjylland because I lost three straight MLS Cups with the Revs," Parkhurst said. "To be on this side of it is nice because every championship is sweeter than the last one."
Parkhurst said that FCN have put a unique emphasis on the cup each of the last two seasons, given their standing as perceived underdogs in the Danish league.
"We really focus on the cup because we know we probably aren't going to finish in the top three," he said. "In order to get a Europa League bid, [the cup] is our chance, so we go after it. We don't rest anybody for the early games, when a lot of other teams get knocked out. We've also had some good fortune along the way, and you always need that in a run like this."
The Wild Tigers have also had the growing versatility of Parkhurst on their side, with his switching from a traditional role on the back line to a new one at defensive midfield — just as he did in last year's final triumph.
"The first time I played in midfield was last year's cup final — and, lo and behold, I'm there again this year," he quipped. "It's crazy how things work out. I've only played midfield four times now, and two of them have been cup finals."
Though most often appearing at center back this term, the Rhode Island native has periodically worked the right side of defense and recently pitched in emergency relief work at left back.
"I get to get forward a little more, it's a different type of position, different type of running, different responsibilities,” he said. “I like to have the ball, so it's fun."
The next task on the FC Nordsjælland agenda, however, will be to make sure there is no cup celebration hangover. A two-game SAS Liga win streak has all but reserved their return place for next season, but they still need one result or for 11th-place Lyngby to drop points to ensure survival over the final two games.
"Unfortunately, our work's not done yet," he said. "We're confident, but until it's mathematical, we're thinking about it."
On Wednesday, they will visit Clarence Goodson and Brøndby, a team clinging to slim Champions League qualification hopes.
"We like playing the big teams who play good football," stated Parkhurst. "It suits us well, so it'll be a good one."