ATLANTA — Michael Parkhurst remembers the day in the winter of 2016 when he was told he was coming to Atlanta. He was upset.
The prospect of playing for a new team, Atlanta United, was intriguing, sure, but it represented a great unknown. Would he ever reach his best form playing with a newly-assembled collection of players? Would he and his family adapt to the new city? And most importantly, would he ever get another chance to win MLS Cup, a trophy that’d eluded him on four occasions previously?
"You understand that going to an expansion team, you might not have success right away," Parkhurst told reporters in the week leading up to Saturday's final. "But that was canceled out so early on from the way the club has done things from the very beginning. The amount of money they've invested, the infrastructure they provide — everything's just been top class around here."
The move, as we know now, has been a smashing success for player and club alike. Parkhurst has since captained Atlanta United to two highly successful seasons, culminating in perhaps the unlikeliest of championships if you'd have asked him two years ago.
“I’ve dreamed of what it felt like to be in the locker room with the champagne,” Parkhurst said, thoroughly drenched. “I’ve heard it before from the other locker room. It was worth the wait. It was special to be in there. I can’t wait to party tonight.”
Much of Parkhurst’s MLS Cup heartbreak came with current teammate Jeff Larentowicz, who signed with Atlanta just three days after Parkhurst had been announced. Parkhurst and Larentowicz lost three straight MLS Cup Finals with the New England Revolution from 2005-2007.
Then Parkhurst failed for a fourth time as his Columbus Crew SC team fell to — as fate would have it — the Portland Timbers in 2015. The similarities between the cup finals last night and in 2015 are so eerily similar that you’d forgive Parkhurst for suffering déjà vu. Just like 2015, his second-seeded team defeated the Supporters’ Shield winning New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Championship to advance to play MLS Cup at home.
Just one small difference: Saturday night, Parkhurst was playing for a crowd more than three times as large. That’s something he’ll never forget.
“I think Atlanta took everybody by surprise a little bit,” Parkhurst said. “You never know exactly the type of success any team is going to have. But when you’ve got an owner committed like Arthur and the resources he has put into this team, it’s a recipe for success. It was a perfect time for Atlanta to get a soccer team. It’s a melting pot city and people have just gravitated toward us. And it’s because of the atmosphere here tonight. People love being a part of it.”
And Parkhurst loves being part of it too. He revealed after the match that he hopes to use the option in his contract to return for another season next year, an option he might not have dreamed of using when he signed two years ago.