MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United players have grand visions Saturday night of playing the best soccer of their lives against the Portland Timbers in the 2018 MLS Cup (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN, TVAS), stepping on a stage in front of their home fans and thrusting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy into the air as confetti rains down — a glorious scene.
Michael Parkhurst has been down this road before. Four times, in fact, he’s had an opportunity to grab the Cup, but each time he’s been denied at the final hurdle.
“I understand more than most what it feels like not to win it, and what could be,” Parkhurst told reporters during a moment of reflection on a playing career filled with cruel turns of fate. “Being toward the end of my career, having been there and not won it, it means a lot.”
In recent weeks, the 34-year-old Parkhurst and veteran teammate Jeff Larentowicz told media how they’ve passed on wisdom to teammates about how to deal with the monumental challenge that is playing in an MLS Cup final. The pair were New England Revolution teammates in the mid 2000s and together lost three consecutive MLS Cup finals. While Larentowicz, 35, was finally able to win one in 2010 with the Colorado Rapids, that title remains elusive for Parkhurst.
“Jeff's been a great teammate, and anyone who's ever played with him would say the same thing,” Parkhurst said. “He's stepped up from last year when he had a fantastic season, which is impressive because he's older than I am. I'm happy to be back with him with a chance to win a title. Hopefully this one goes better than the other three.”
If this year is different and things finally go Parkhurst’s way, not only would he gain personal vindication, he’d cement his legacy as the captain of one of the greatest teams to play in Major League Soccer.
“We know that we've been special this year,” Parkhurst said. “We're proud of the season we've put together. No back-to-back losses is incredible. In MLS, it's unbelievable. When I saw what Toronto did last year, it was so impressive. To think that us and the Red Bulls came back the very next year and bettered it is really impressive. To end it with a title would be amazing and definitely put ourselves in that conversation.”
Parkhurst, who said he is on track to play in the final following an ankle injury suffered in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against the Red Bulls, has an opportunity Saturday to put a capstone on what has otherwise been a stellar career.
“You never know how many of these opportunities you're going to get, so you want to win one while you can,” Parkhurst said. “Thankfully I've got a fifth opportunity. After the fourth one, I thought 'I don't know if I'll ever get one.' But here I am. It'd be special, I hope it'll be a great night.”