HARRISON, N.J. — Michael Parkhurst has done this all before, and he’s done it at Red Bull Arena before, too.
Just three years ago, the veteran defender helped lead Columbus Crew SC over the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Championship. That 2-1 aggregate win meant MLS Cup would be played in Columbus.
“Just because we just beat the best team in the regular season and we’re playing at home doesn’t guarantee anything,” Parkhurst said after the Five Stripes eliminated the Red Bulls, 3-1, on aggregate Thursday night. “I did it in 2015. We came here, we beat the Red Bulls with Columbus, we hosted MLS Cup and we lost. There’s no guarantees.”
The Atlanta captain is also no stranger to reaching the final. This will be his fifth shot at that elusive first title, having experienced painfully close losses in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 editions with the New England Revolution.
“Apparently I don’t know,” Parkhurst joked when asked what it takes to win MLS Cup. “Take advantage of the opportunity. That’s what I’ve been telling these guys. You don’t know if you’ll get another chance at it. I’ve been fortunate enough that I have. But you never know. We have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Parkhurst said it was tough to describe the feeling of clinching another spot in MLS Cup, and also admitted that he “can’t imagine” what the atmosphere is going to be like at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a league championship on the line.
“I feel like I’ve said it after a lot of games that it just keeps getting louder and louder in our stadium,” he said. “The last game against the Red Bulls was by far the loudest that I’ve ever heard it. I expect it to be even louder for the Cup game. They just keep outdoing themselves, our support is amazing. I know there was a lot of fans back in Atlanta getting together watching that game. Thank you for your support and we can’t wait to play in front of you next weekend.”
Although there will likely be another huge crowd of 70,000-plus at the Benz, Five Stripes defender Greg Garza said there’s still room left on the bandwagon for his friends — and a place to stay next week.
“To all my friends in Texas, California, wherever you are, the house is going to be open,” Garza said. “Just can’t wait for what the city will have to bring. The last game at home against Red Bull was unbelievable. I think we’re hoping for something like that again.”