Many years ago, a wise man who came to play in MLS after 16 years of top-flight experience in England spelled out for me what makes a good performance for a defender: “After the game, if they don’t mention your name, you’ve done your job well.”
With all due respect to Frank Yallop’s comment, I’m going to mention Michael Parkhurst's name anyway. Because, while everyone was yammering on about Michael Bradley’s attacking midfield prowess and Julian Green’s jittery debut during Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Mexico, Parkhurst quietly did everything right.
And, IMHO, he booked his ticket to Brazil.
One caveat: This was not a great Mexican team. Playing against Ghana, Portugal and Germany is a very different proposition. Still, Parkhurst, who technically played out of position at left back, displayed against Mexico exactly what should make him a lock for Jurgen Klinsmann’s final 23. From his positioning to his possession, he barely put a foot wrong.
We often talk about soccer IQ. The smarts to be in the right place at the right time, to anticipate where the danger is, to know your responsibilities and your limitations, to communicate with your teammates effectively and efficiently, and so on.
Parkhurst’s soccer IQ is off the charts.
Against El Tri, his positioning meant he was never beaten. He carefully selected moments to go forward in the first half and held back appropriately when Mexico gained the upper hand in the second half.
In possession, “Parkie” completed 56 of 69 passes. That’s not an eye-popping completion rate or anything, but the total number of passes is impressive, given he played outside back. In fact, Parkhurst attempted the most passes of anyone on either side and was tied with Michael Bradley for most complete passes on the night.
And there is the physical as well. Parkhurst is faster than he appears, and even when facing a quicker opponent, he is clever enough to deal with it through his anticipation and footwork.
But the real story here is that Parkhurst showed — again — his versatility. We know from past US games that he is very comfortable at right back. We know from his club career, first with the New England Revolution and now with the Columbus Crew, that he can line up in the middle. Now we have confirmed that he is perfectly comfortable at left back.
Versatility like this is a great X-factor during a fast-and-furious tournament like the World Cup.
His best shot at playing time in Brazil probably comes at right back. With Klinsmann seemingly settled on Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, and DaMarcus Beasley a lock on the left, the right side remains up for grabs. Seattle’s Brad Evans is the current incumbent, but many worry how he might hold up against a beast like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo or a smooth operator like Germany’s Marco Reus. I am not as concerned, but I recognize that Evans's relative lack of pace and experience could spell disaster against such talented players.
Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron, an equally versatile player who could get a look at center back, is also a possibility on the right. So is Hoffenheim's Fabian Johnson, who has mostly lined up at left midfield for the US team.
But after Parkhurst's performance on Wednesday, one has to believe that Klinsmann is very seriously considering mentioning his name come June for all the right reasons.