Postcard from Europe: Parkhurst ready to fight in Germany
AMSTERDAM – Michael Parkhurst wants in the game.
The US defender, who joined Bundesliga survivalists Augsburg last month after running out of contract with FC Nordsjælland, has watched his first two matches in Germany from the dugout. After gradually becoming a fixture in Denmark since his shift from MLS in 2008, he hasn't remained a sideline spectator this long in nearly two years.
"Of course, I wanted to come in and play from the start," Parkhurst explained to MLSsoccer.com by phone after Augsburg training this week. "It takes time to adjust to a new playing style, a new team, new language, everything.
"The team's playing well right now and we're getting results,” he added. “They like me as a player and see my qualities, but I just have to be patient and my chance will come."
It's just one of many sudden changes for the Rhode Island native, who became a key member at Nordsjælland after arriving from the New England Revolution four winters ago. During his happy stay there, Parkhurst helped the Wild Tigers win their first Superliga crown and a pair of Danish Cups.
"I think they helped me take the next step in my career," he said. "Obviously, playing Champions League is every player's dream. I have a lot of good memories to look back on and I developed a lot as a player. I'm thankful."
It's hard not to notice the similarities between Parkhurst’s two European transfer arrivals. Like Augsburg, FC Nordsjælland was a guppy trying to survive in the big pond when Parkhurst showed up, but he’s not necessarily expecting a similar scenario in the supremely competitive Bundesliga.
"I don't think anybody thought that would happen when I was coming [to FCN]," he said. "It was quite a turnaround and fun to be a part of. It's a similar situation, but I don't expect to win a championship in a couple of years."
For now, Parkhurst says everyone at Augsburg would be satisfied with celebrating a place in the Bundesliga for next season. The 105-year-old club is playing just its second season in the top flight, and currently sits in the relegation playoff spot with 15 games remaining.
Though Augsburg have eight points to make up on the safety zone, they managed a second half rally last season and have notched four points in the past two games out of the midseason break.
"It's not a fun one, but having the experience [of a relegation fight] helps," he said. "There's not too much panic. It's going to be difficult knowing every point is so important, but we're coping. You have to in order to survive."
The American is also coping with the new level of demand on his game. Though he'd become one of the finest defenders in Denmark, crossing the southern border has him in a whole new soccer world.
For instance, Parkhurst greatly improved his acumen for attacking at Nordsjælland, even leading the league in assists at the time of his departure. He will aim to continue building his skills, but warns not to expect so many offensive fireworks once he gets on the field for Augsburg.
Here it's more man-to-man [defense], as opposed to zonal,” he said. “Offensively, I had more freedom in Denmark. I will help the attack in Germany, but it won't be as much."
The good news for Parkhurst is the one thing that won't change at Augsburg. After going from handyman to the regular at right back in Denmark, new manager Markus Weinzierl prefers the 29-year-old in that same spot.
This will help Parkhurst's goal of reaching a new level in his career, with both club and country.
"I want to get as good as possible at that position," he declared. "I want to focus in training on the extra things that I need to get better as an outside back – crossing, one-on-ones – rather than working on things that other positions require.
"I think [US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann] sees me as an outside back, so I want to be playing there for my club team to show I can play at the highest levels."
Klinsmann will soon name his squad for the first final round game of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and Parkhurst wants to be in Honduras on February 6.
"I'm not sure," Parkhurst said with a laugh when asked if he would be summoned. "I hope so. Me not playing [since early December] doesn't help, but I also know there's a couple of injuries out there. I'll be ready if I'm called."