BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, May 27, 2011
For the second straight year Michael Parkhurst and Nordsjaelland will be headed to the Europa Leauge following a thrilling run to the Danish Cup title earlier this week.
Parkhurst, 27, played all 90 minutes last Sunday for Nordsjaelland in their 3-2 win over Midtjylland in the Danish Cup final. When Soren Christensen scored the winner in second half injury time, it lifted he small club to their second straight Cup title.
"It's another fantastic run by the team," Parkhurst told YA from Denmark. "For a team of our size to win just one, let alone back to back, cup championship is an amazing feat. Even in the final we weren't the best team. Midtjylland outplayed us for most of the game but we took our goals very well and made them pay. I guess that's what it's all about."
The win over Midtjylland is part of a very strong close to the season that has seen the team not only win the cup but also move away from the relegation zone and into seventh place in the league.
Nordsjaelland's philosophy as a small club is usually to focus on the development of young players and they often find themselves in the position of selling their most promising talent. As a result, it is often difficult to consistently compete for a finish in the top four in the standings thereby making the Cup the only avenue for European play.
"It's year to year," Parkhurst explained of the club's ambitions. "On a whole, the club really doesn't have goals of breaking into the top three or four. We're a small club and we develop a lot of talent. They like to sell players here and there. They are really content with the 6-10 range [in the league] then making a go at it with the cup every year. Every now and then they'll have the opportunity to make a push and then they can buy a couple of players."
"But for the most part we have really young players and I'm the second oldest guy on the team right now. It's a lot of young guys so it's difficult to play consistent on a weekly basis and that's necessary to break into the top three or four."
Next year Nordsjaelland will once again find themselves in the Europa League where they will begin play in the third qualifying round.
After winning the Cup last year, Nordsjaelland faced a difficult draw in the Europa League when they faced Sporting Lisbon in their first round. In that series, they competed well against the Portuguese powers but lost 2-1 on aggregate over the two rounds.
For next year, Parkhurst hopes the team will draw from the experience to put themselves into a position to advance at least a round further than in 2010.
"It was a good fight for us," Parkhurst recalled from their 2010 Europa League fight. "This year it'll depend on the matchup but for sure our goal will be to advance one stage. From there anything can happen. We do have the experience of last year to build on. Hopefully we can use that and keep some core guys – maybe add some talent in the offseason. We are definitely looking forward to getting back to the Europa because we had a lot of fun last year."
This past season has seen its ups and downs for Parkhurst who has battled his share of injuries recently. Since the winter break, Parkhurst suffered his first ever hamstring injury and it forced him to miss considerable time.
When he was finally able to return to action, the injury bug had hit the rest of club and Parkhurst was forced to have to play several different positions out of necessity.
"I've been playing a little of everything," Parkhurst pointed out. "For a majority of the time I've been a central defender but we had some other injuries here and there. I played a game at left back. Then we had some injuries in the midfield so they asked me to step into the defensive midfield and that's where I've played for the last few games."
The move to central midfield was unusual for the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon but it is one that he has adapted well. His play there has earned him positive reviews and he is enjoying the new challenges of the position.
"It is a new thing for me but it's different, that's for sure," the Rhode Island native stated. "I'm not used to getting the ball with guys behind my back and that's probably the biggest challenge. But I like have the ball at my feet and being able to be involved in the game a little more. I get to go forward a little bit so that's exciting. I'm working on my positioning, trying to break up plays more, reading passing lanes, things like that. I've gotten good feedback from the coaching staff so I may play there a couple more times."
Parkhurst's current contract with Nordsjaelland is for another half season and it will expire at the end of 2011 during the winter break.
Parkhurst signed with Nordsjaelland in December 2008 when his MLS contract with the New England Revolution expired. At this point, he does not believe he will extend his current contract with Nordsjaelland and could even depart the club during the coming transfer window.
As for where he could end up, Parkhurst would like to remain in Europe but he is also open to the idea of returning to MLS where he was a first round draft pick in 2005, the league's Rookie of the Year, and the MLS Defender of the Year in 2007.
"I've enjoyed my time here but it's most likely that I won't be staying in Denmark past December," Parkhurst said of his future. "The club likes to sell players so if they have the opportunity to sell me in the summer, then they'll do that. I'll look forward to a new opportunity. If not, then come the New Year, I'll be looking for a new job here overseas. If that doesn't work out, I have no problem coming back to the MLS. It's a great league. I came over here wanting to try something new and now I have. If it continues to work, then great but if not then I'll continue to enjoy my career in MLS again."
In addition to his club future, Parkhurst also hopes to reemerge in Bob Bradley's plans for the US national team. Parkhurst has seen time with the team as recently as last October when he played central defense in a 0-0 draw with Colombia.
After that game, Bradley spoke highly of Parkhurst and said his ability to play different positions made him valuable to the team. Parkhurst's injuries may have cost him a chance at making the Gold Cup team but he remains confident he can be part of the team's future and that his versatility can give the team an asset it lacks.
"I feel like I am still young enough and that I'm in my prime," Parkhurst concluded. "Hopefully my versatility can help me in the future. I can't worry about it. It's something that if it happens, great. I just need to take care of things at the club level and stay fit. I have to make sure I am playing for my club on a weekly basis and hopefully the rest will take care of itself."