The city of Atlanta has a championship for the first time since 1995 thanks to the efforts of second-year MLS franchise Atlanta United. In front of an MLS Cup-record crowd of 73,019, United defeated the Portland Timbers 2-0 to bring their immaculate sophomore season to a close.
While the championship likely brought a bit of relief to a fanbase whose city is best known for one of the biggest choke-jobs in sports history, there likely wasn’t a single person at Mercedes-Benz Stadium more grateful for the win than team captain Michael Parkhurst. The 34-year-old defender not only won his first MLS Cup on Saturday, he also broke a championship losing streak that spanned throughout four cup finals, and dated back 13 years.
“I’ve dreamed of what it would feel like to be in the locker room with the champagne,” Parkhurst told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve heard it through the walls a couple times. It’s amazing.”
Parkhurst’s MLS career began with a New England Revolution squad that made three consecutive MLS Cup finals: 2005, 2006 and 2007. They lost every single one. He wouldn’t get a chance at redemption until 2015 with the Columbus Crew, but ended up on the losing side of that match as well in a 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers—a loss that stung in particular because the Crew were at home.
While the veteran captain played yesterday’s match with the intensity that cup finals usually demand, he never showed signs of desperation and maintained his composure despite the stakes. His most pivotal play came late in the first half when he executed a well-timed tackle on Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse; the ball deflected right to Josef Martinez, who weaved his way past keeper Jeff Attinella to score the first goal of the game.
As one might expect from an older player, Parkhurst cited film study, downplayed his role and gave the credit to his teammate when he went through the play with reporters after the game.
“I just wanted to get pressure on him, not allow him to turn,” Parkhurst said of the pivotal play. “I’ve seen video that a lot of times he goes to that side because he’s got the left foot and likes to take it inside. From there, I just slid. Joseph did all the work from there. He does what he does best and that’s put it in the back of the net.”
But he didn’t overextend his modesty, and found time to savor this championship-winning moment, as he told Goal.com:
“It was everything I dreamed about and more,” Parkhurst told Goal of the moment he lifted the trophy. “I can’t wait to relive it, see the pictures and party with these guys tonight. It was special.”
“I thought I’d play my career in Columbus, but I got shipped to Atlanta, thankfully,” Parkhurst told Goal. “Getting another opportunity to close the deal was special, and tonight was everything I ever imagined winning MLS Cup would be.”