September 16, 2014
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Parkhurst's World Cup dreams began in R.I.
MICHAEL PARKHURST

Michael Parkhurst’s soccer career has taken him all over the world.

He’s played in North Carolina, where he was an All-American at Wake Forest University. He’s played in Massachusetts, where he was Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year in 2005 and Defender of the Year in 2007 while a member of the New England Revolution. He’s played on a club in Denmark, and, currently, he lives and plays for a club team in Germany.

Last month, he was with the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) as it clinched a berth in the 2014 World Cup with a 3-1 win over Mexico, its biggest rival. He’s played in Panama, Costa Rica, Spain and Brazil

But when he started playing soccer, he was dribbling up and down the fields at the Hope Road Complex, just another player for CLCF.

Parkhurt’s career, full of accolades and accomplishments, began in Cranston, when he was 6-years-old.

“I spent my whole childhood in Cranston up until (high school),” Parkhurst, 29, said via phone interview from Germany last week. “I still go back almost every time I have some time off to see my family. A bunch of my friends I grew up with are there.”

He grew up in Edgewood, where his parents Mike and Marian still live. He attended Park View Middle School, competed for CLCF and later for Bayside United, a statewide premier team.

Following middle school, though, Parkhurst decided to pursue soccer more seriously. He left Cranston at 14 to enroll at Bradenton Soccer Academy in Florida.

Then his career took off.

A defender, he excelled at Bradenton, put his name on the map and went on to play at Wake Forest. For three seasons he starred for the Demon Deacons, earning second-team All-American honors twice before the Revolution made him their top pick in the 2005 draft.

Four years later, he was a star. He won MLS Rookie and Defender of the Year, won the CONCACAF Gold cup with Team USA in 2007 and represented the United States in the Summer Olympics in 2008.

It didn’t stop there. After the 2008 MLS season, he joined Danish squad Nordsjælland, where he played for four seasons before joining German side FC Augsburg, which plays in the top-tier of the German league and is the team Parkhurst currently plays for.

And there’s the USMNT, the pinnacle of the profession for an American soccer player. He’s been on that team too, especially during the good times.

This past year, the Americans ran off a 12-game winning streak, the longest in the country’s history. Parkhurst was on the roster – and played often – during all 12 games.

“I think there’s a confidence throughout the group that maybe wasn’t there as much prior to this past year, year and a half,” Parkhurst said. “We feel that we can go out there and win every game that we play. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, where we’re playing – we feel like we can go out there and dominate the game, impose ourselves on other teams and get a victory. That’s a good feeling to have.”

Playing for the USMNT, especially at this juncture, is the main focus for most American soccer players, as the team is playing at an all-time high level with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil right around the corner.

Parkhurst played previously in a few games under former manager Bob Bradley, and has been a key member of the team during the transition to new manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who has been at the helm during the team’s recent resurgence.

Klinsmann’s energy, he says, has been contagious.

“Jurgen is a great people person,” Parkhurst said. “He’s super friendly and outgoing and positive. All the guys love to play for him because he’ll do anything for you. The players know that, and they feel his energy. We want to replicate that energy out on the field. It’s been going well recently.”

Included in the USMNT’s run of success was the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Title, in which Parkhurst started five of the six games – including the final against Panama – all of which the United States won.

Being on that roster was a golden opportunity for Parkhurst to showcase his talents to Klisnmann as the manager tries to cut down his final roster for the World Cup.

“We had a fantastic team, and not just on the field and talent-wise, but off the field and the camaraderie,” Parkhurst said. “It was a fun group to be a part of. Everybody was hungry to show Jurgen that they wanted to be part of the full team from every game, here on out. I think that’s why we had the success that we did.”

Following the Gold Cup victory, Parkhurst was also on the roster for a victory over 13th-ranked Bosnia-Herzegovina in an international friendly, a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica that snapped the winning streak and the 2-0 win over Mexico that clinched a World Cup berth. Parkhurst came in as a substitute in the second half of the Mexico game and was on the field to celebrate when the final whistle blew.

Recently, however, Parkhurst’s path has taken a slight detour. His playing time has diminished in Augsburg, which has led to him being left off the United States roster for its two upcoming World Cup qualifiers on Friday and next Tuesday, barring him being called in as an injury replacement.

With an eye still on making the final World Cup roster, though, he’s hoping to change his fortune, potentially by looking for a change of scenery.

“That’s why I need to leave Germany if things don’t change here,” Parkhurst said. “Jurgen definitely wants players that are playing on a weekly basis for their club team, and by not doing that I’ve cost myself these two qualifiers and probably the friendlies in November. I don’t want to miss out on any games with the World Cup coming up so quickly.”

There’s also the appeal of coming back to the United States, as Parkhurst has an American wife and two children – ages two and three – who have never lived in America. Returning to the MLS is certainly a possibility, although other leagues in Europe are also potential landing spots.

Wherever he ends up, Parkhurst simply wants to play so he can prove that he’s still one of the best American players in the world, and is worthy of a roster spot for the Brazil-bound team.

“It’s the ultimate goal,” Parkhurst said. “I think any professional soccer player wants to play for their country, and they want to help their team qualify for the World Cup. They want to go to the World Cup. I’ve done part one and part two, but now I want to actually be on the team that goes to Brazil. Everything I do between now and then is for that reason, to try to get on that team.”

Even with so much going on, Parkhurst usually finds time to return to Cranston once a year, and the last time he came was this past summer for a few weeks.

This year, with the World Cup in the summer and his tenure in Germany potentially coming to a close near the December holidays, there may not be time for a visit.

That’s understandable, as the soccer journey that started on Hope Road has taken Michael Parkhurst on quite a trip.

He’s hoping there’s still room for his most important leg yet – a stop-off in Brazil.

“The goal is still the World Cup and I still think that I will have the opportunity to put myself in a good position to go,” Parkhurst said.


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