DAVID SMITH - Monday, March 30, 2009
Former New England Revolution mainstay Michael Parkhurst is still adapting to his new surroundings as he aims to become the latest American import to make an impact in Denmark.
The 2009 winter transfer window was considered by many to be a disappointing one for Americans, with anticipated moves by a number of high-profile players failing to materialize, pushed back to a later date or simply proving to be a part of the always overactive rumor mill.
Central defender Parkhurst, however, left no question as to his overseas intentions when he inked a contract with FC Nordsjaelland three weeks before the January window opened after successfully seeing out his four-year contract in Major League Soccer.
While the move surprised many who expected to see the decorated player continue his career in a higher-profile league in England or Germany, the much-lauded MLS defender approached his decision with an open mind, taking into account both the qualities of the league as well as the success of predecessors who had made similar moves.
"I wanted to find out as much about Danish league as possible," Parkhurst told YA. "I'd heard they are an underrated league, and offer great chance to play in the UEFA Cup."
"The Americans there haven't sat the bench and have had an impact."
His new club Nordsjaelland is no mystery to American fans, as it has already been an important stepping stone for one current national team starter, Heath Pearce, who was a fixture in the Danish team's back line from 2005-2007.
"I spoke with Heath [Pearce] about the club and he spoke highly of them and their play."
While entering the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play route and falling just short of the group stage, their domestic season has been a frustrating one so far, with the team spending most of their time hovering just above the relegation line and leaking the second most goals in the league prior to the arrival of their American reinforcement.
Last weekend's 3-1 road victory over SønderjyskE showed Nordsjaelland playing perhaps their best defense so far of 2009, pitching a shutout for the final 81 minutes, with the three-time MLS Cup finalist preventing a goal with an astute headed clearance in the final minutes.
The move from MLS to a European league is usually met with a period of adjustment for players, a fact that did not escape the former Wake Forest standout in making his initial assessment of his time with the team.
"I knew couldn't come in right away and dominate games," he admits. "When you're not too used to the league and not familiar with the players, it's different."
Switching to an entirely different system in Denmark has been a continual learning experience for the Rhode Island native, however, as he is forced to account for a different set of duties in his own play as well as adjust to the flexible play of opponents in the tactically astute Danish league.
"The biggest change [to MLS] is tactically so far. I think things here are more organized with what they want to do, whether that's pressing or more often dropping back and staying compact."
"With New England, we pressed a lot and hardly ever dropped back to our own half. Not that I favor one over the other, but it's a different style."
"Luckily I came in and had a chance to go through that in the mid-season break and am fortunate for that."
The change in systems has forced the 2008 Olympic team starter to adjust his own play, taking on a new level of mobility which was less often called upon by his former coach.
"In a three-man backline [in New England] I controlled the offside line," he evaluates. "I didn't have to mark man on man as much as in a four-man backline."
"[Now] I've got more freedom to go up field in a four-man backline, which I'm trying to get used to since Steve Nicol didn't want me to leave my spot."
With players such as Danny Califf and Pearce having set the bar high for American defenders in Denmark, the 2007 MLS Defender of the Year and three-time All-Star knows that his work is cut out for him, however he is ready to give it his all to carry on their tradition.
"There is definitely room for improvement, however I'm learning as fast as I can."
With the Danish league taking a week off for the international break, Parkhurst and his teammates have a short reprieve before facing surely their toughest test of the year, when they host league leaders FC Copenhagen next weekend.